Taming the Wild Cliché   3 comments

There is probably no greater temptation for the aspiring author than that of the wild cliché. That is with the exception of selling your soul to the Devil for a best seller, of course. The plain fact is, clichés are just too easy to use. You know that nearly everyone, and their uncle, reading the darn thing is going to get the point. And let’s face it, our lives are simply riddled with clichés. We can’t seem to live without them.

Clichés also seem to breed like cockroaches under a damp sink. Every time you turn around there’s another one taking its first steps into the collective consciousness. On the internet they are called memes, in business they are called catch phrases, in linguistics they are known as slang. But, make no mistake, all of them will grow up to become full fledged clichés sooner, or later. Words and phrases that were at one time popular are now looked at like something the cat dragged in.

Even presidents have used clichés. My fellow Americans can remember more politicians than you can shake a stick at asking, “Where’s the beef?”. Not to mention, the examples of presidential speech writers using clichés would fill several blogs. But, let an aspiring author use just one in a query letter, or a manuscript, an it’s Katy bar the door. Agents, and editors will drop you like a hot potato. They despise clichés with a passion.

I don’t care how many clichés you find in a published author’s novel, do it while your trying to get your foot in the door, and your ass is grass. Of course, when we look at all the rule breaking that seems to get by in the publishing world, it’s hard not to think that you can’t win for losing.

But, I am a sneaky cuss, so let’s put our heads together and see if we can’t come up with a solution. Let’s see if we can sneak in the back door, and tame the wild cliché.

There is the slick-it-by method, but you really have to toe the line to make this one work. In this method you are taking a gamble and putting all your cards on the table. Let one, or two clichés pass as is. The idea here is to teach an old dog a new trick. You carefully choose a cliché that’s old as the hills, one that hasn’t been used in ages, but is still young enough to be remembered with nostalgia instead of nausea. After all, agents and editors are human, too. A cliché that can invoke a bit of nostalgia can have the same effect on them, and they let it pass. After all, you only did it once. Who knows, you might just get away with murder here.

The second method of taming the wild cliché is the fix-it-later technique. While effective, you have to watch this one like a hawk. I have good news and bad news about this method. The good news first; it will not interrupt the flow of your writing. When you decide to use a cliché, you just go right ahead and use it. Don’t worry about it. The bad news is that you have to go back through your story and reword all those clichés you just used. Every single one must be reworded so that you say the same thing but it doesn’t look like you used a cliché.

Since there is no risk of actually using a cliché in the second method, unless you accidentally leave one in, the agents and editors will be none the wiser and you get to use all the clichés you want. Just make sure you have an eagle eye and reword those suckers before you send your masterpiece off.

Sneaky, huh?

Now, incase you haven’t noticed, this post is up to its eyeballs in clichés. I had to shut the cliché finder off on WordPress just so I could write the thing. To any agents, or editors out there who notice all the god awful clichés that I riddled this article with: I can assure you it was deliberate, and I don’t normally write this way. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Clichés are a subject we have discussed many times at AgentQuery Connect, and I’m sure we will discuss them many more times. To use them, or not. Are they effective, or not. But, what the hell. When it comes to getting published, we’re all just squirrels trying to get a nut.

Ever;
Pete

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3 responses to “Taming the Wild Cliché

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  1. HAHAHAHAHAHA! This post sure was a sight for sore eyes. Anyone who ignores your advice will totally be in the doghouse.

    Also . . . please tell me WordPress really has a cliché finder?

  2. It sure does, Michelle. But, you have to turn the thing off, or on. In most cases you have to shut it down, or learn to ignore it.

    The trick is to NOT use the QuickPress option and use the full editor. Tag the New Post under My Blog in the dashboard.

    Spellcheck in the visual editor, or proofread in the HTML option does the same thing. To configure what it checks for:

    You can configure the proofreading feature by going to Users -> Personal Settings. You’ll find the Users menu on the left hand side of your dashboard half-way down the page.

    From here you can edit the phrase ignore list and enable extra options in the proofreading feature. Make sure you click Update Profile at the bottom of the page to save your settings.

    Cliches are just one of the options listed, about the second one down in the English Options list.

  3. Oh wow! I’ve been using wordpress for years and never noticed that.

    To use another cliche . . . you learn something new every day!

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