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Tuesday, April 19, 2016
The Big Book of Cliches by Stuart R. West
These days when I read a book and come across a
cringe-inducing cliché, my first inclination is to hurl the book across the
room. Of course I don’t do that since I do most of my reading now on an electronic
Even more troubling is when I realize, “Hey! As a writer, I’ve
used that cliché on several occasions!” Oh, the shame of it all. Here’s
the funny thing about clichés, though. Writers hate them; but sometimes,
particularly in genre-based fiction, readers sometimes seek them out. Like a
comfortable throw. There’ve been times when I’ve strayed from clichés
intentionally, particularly in regard to protagonists. Gone are the rough and
tumble, yet beyond handsome, confident he-men. Hello to insecure, troubled, baggage-carrying
neurotics. No secret which type of hero is more popular.
Clichés offend me. No, that’s not quite true. They bore me.
I want more originality. To help myself stay on the straight and narrow path
and not stray down cliché alley, I composed a list of some of the worst offenders. (Keep in mind these adhere more to the noir/thriller/suspense
genres than others).
*Heroes with macho names. Every writer’s featured one.
Every reader has read many. Usually the names connote some sort of solid building
material. Don’t ask me why. “Rick Broadbrick.” “Rocky Hardroad.” “Stoney
Brawling.” “Captain Tug McLumber.” Personally, I’d like to see more Marvins and
Miltons. But…those names don’t exactly encapsulate tough guys.
*The damaged goods male lead. Women readers love these guys.
Throughout my life, I’ve met women who adore these guys in real life. They’ve
admitted it to me; they want to change them. So many fictional detectives and
cops are alcoholic, love-dented, chain-smoking, sloppy, death-wishing brooders.
Every woman’s dream, right? Good luck fixing ‘em, ladies!
*The dreaded dream sequence. How I’ve come to loathe
fictional dreams. I’m the first to admit I’d used them in some of my earlier
books. But never again. I see them as the ultimate cheat. Nothing that happens
in a dream ultimately matters. Sorta a waste of time. If I
make it through the book, only to find out the entire tale was a dream? I call
foul! No more! Use your clichés wisely and sparingly.
*The big revelation! Usually, the big reveal happens with
our hero standing out in the rain. Not just a light sprinkling either. We’re talking
monsoon weather. He drops to his knees, raises his fists to the sky, screams, “Noooooooo!” Or the variant: “Whyyyyyyy?” First? Get out of the rain.
You’re gonna catch pneumonia. You can scream just as well in dry environments.
Or at least prepare yourself and bring an umbrella. Second? Scream something
original. How about, “Huh. I didn’t see that coming.” Or “What a day, what a
day.” Okay, I know, right? Not as impactful. But…enough’s enough.
*Characters who have big emotional insights, but say them
out loud when they’re alone. “Think of the kitties…oh, my Lord, what about the
poor, poor kitties?” Who does that? Who are they talking to? Talk about damaged
goods. Call up a friend, then chat about the kitties. Or see a psychiatrist.
The only time I’ve ever talked to myself? When an accident happens. And it’s
language no one should be privy to.
*The chatty, James Bond-style super-villain. Usually when
the bad guy is unveiled, he holds the hero at gun-point (or some other perilous
situation) and decides to make a lengthy speech. “You see, Mr. Broadbrick
(they’re generally very polite, too), the reason I decided to poison the
clown-car full of would be thespians is because I, too, once fancied myself a
clown. Oh, I went to clown school, learned to juggle at the feet of the
masters, excelled in the art of applying make-up and honking red noses. I wore
baggy pants day in and day out. Every day for twenty years! Then they laughed
at me…not a good kind of appreciative audience laugh either. For you see…”Zzzz. Snurk. Wha? Sorry, I dozed off just
writing that. The hero probably would’ve in real life, too. Or taken the time
to unravel the ropes binding his hands, sweep the feet beneath the villain,
claim the gun, the woman, the stolen money. Truth time? I’ve done this.
Sometimes it’s a must, no way around it in murder mysteries.
There’re a lot more where these came from. I’ve just skimmed
the top of the ol’ cliché barrel. But, as I said, some readers come to expect a
few of these in books. It’s what they like, what they search out. And depending
on the genre? Some are absolutely unavoidable. Depends on what you do with
them, I suppose. But I’m striving to keep away.
Um, starting right about now.
How about you? Any annoying cliché’s you’d like to add?