Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Editorial Tip of the Week: Cliché Overload

We’ve all seen them: cheesy and cliché words, phrases, or scenes. These clichés litter bad literature and even infiltrate some good literature. Today we’re going to give a few tips for avoiding cheesiness, clichés, and just plain overused wording.

There are a few key areas where cliché language tends to pop up:

Love scenes. Do we really need to elaborate? Unfortunately, this is where about 80 percent of cliché abuse occurs. Don’t parrot overused words and phrases such as eyes like the ocean, legs like jelly, chiseled chest, or seductive lips. And please, please, please, don’t let there be any twittering birds, gently lapping waves, or choruses of softly chirping crickets in the background of a kissing scene. Keep your audience in mind as you write—what reaction are you trying to elicit? Will the scene draw them in or gross them out?

Times of emotional distress. Are your characters stressed? Sad? Scared? Whatever you do, don’t let them cry. A great author once said, “Let the reader do the crying, not the character.” Of course there are appropriate times to cry, but for the most part good characters bravely choke back the sobs rising in their throat and move on. Typical clichés here come in phrases like flood of tears, tortured eyes, frayed nerves, soul-wrenching sobs, lashes/cheeks wet with tears, or furrowed brow. We’re not saying that you should hide your character’s emotional distress; just choose your words wisely so your character is the distressed one, not the reader.

Tense moments. What predicaments have your characters gotten themselves into now? Are they clinging desperately to the edge of a cliff, seconds away from plummeting a thousand feet to certain death on the jagged rocks below? Are they trapped inside of a burning building, frozen in horror as the flames race toward them like an avenging angel? Strong imagery is good in tense moments, but don’t overdo it. Keep your text balanced so the reader is concerned about the character living to see another day rather than distracted by the overused or overwhelming imagery.

Finally, keep in mind that you should never overuse any specific adjective or group of adjectives. For example, it can really ruin your scary moments if everything throughout the book is “terrifying” or if the character is always “desperately” doing something-or-other.

Remember, as you write keep your audience and your character in mind. Write your story from the character’s point of view to the target audience; don’t force the language in your book, and especially avoid distracting your readers with cheesy or cliché imagery.


Janet Kay Jensen said...

Characters can get away with using cliches when they speak - if it's part of the whole package - -- but for the writer to use them, well, that's a pet peeve of mine, to use yet another cliche.

Abel Keogh said...

Wonderful tip. Thank you!