Monday, April 16, 2012

Is this a Cliché?

I think you are great writer, but no offence please, but some bits in your stories are kind of cliché and I personally think you are better than those who need cliché to their story.

The preceding statement was posted on the comments page of a story I uploaded to my favorite on line site. It was not doctored or altered in any way. How it appears above is how it was written on my comment page. Who said it isn’t important nor is the fact that it contains quite a few grammatical errors.  In looking at this comment, I get the sense that English was the reader’s second language. Of course I can’t be sure, and it isn’t the point.

The point I’d like to make is about clichés in writing. This reader is not the first to point this out to me. In fact, in 2008 I had a story reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly as part of the semi final round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, and that reviewer made the same accusation if you will. However, that reviewer was able to expand and give me specific examples of clichés contained within my work. Interestingly enough, in the first round of this year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, one reader said some of the phrases were a bit clichéd and pointed them out to me.

By now, I’ll bet you’re wondering what these dreaded clichés are that I can’t seem to break the habit of using. The most common offender is this one: Her heart skipped a beat at the smooth sound of his voice. It’s her heart skipping a beat that is the culprit. This, I’m told, is a cliché. What I haven’t been told and what I’ve yet to discover is how to avoid this pitfall.

Most of the novels I write, including all of those in which I’ve been told I lean too heavily on the clichés, are targeted to young adults. For those of you that don’t recall being a teenager or aren’t closely acquainted with any, it may come as a bit of shock to learn that teens have a way of making even the simplest thing something quite dramatic. That aside, even at this age I still remember that feeling of first falling love. I remember my heart alternating between feeling like it skipped a beat and feeling like it was going to beat out of my chest from how fast it fluttered. My palms were sweaty and my mouth was dry. What’s wrong with conveying these feelings to the readers who should be able to identify with them? And if I shouldn’t do it this way, how should I do it?

Another cliché I’ve run into is something I’ve addressed in a prior blog—the old formula argument. For example, one of my novels is about a California girl whose father’s new job forces them to relocate to Oklahoma where she meets a local boy with a mysterious past. This was a story I entered in one contest and was told that the city mouse/country mouse theme is cliché. One of my most recent, and wildly popular stories, follows a young girl whose father’s criminal past forces them to relocate. At her new school, she falls in with the wrong crowd. Again, new girl in a new school is an overdone cliché. As I summarize these stories, I see the repetition, but these are two examples of numerous stories I’ve written. Let me assure you not all of my stories follow the new person in a new school theme. I’ve written a story about a young boy whose parents discover he’s gay and how that changes his life and guess what? That story isn’t anywhere near as popular as those clichés I’ve written. Go figure.

In my defense, I’m not the only author doing it. Many authors, including many who are much more famous than I, have built their careers on these clichés and formulas. Not only do their fans love them for it, but they expect it.

There’s no way around it. I’ve got to face the hard fact that some of work contains some clichés. You know what? Until those stories that stray from the beaten path become more successful I think I’ll leave things the way they are. I think the true fans will not only forgive me for it but be glad I did.

1 comment:

  1. Stories have to be a bit cliche. How else do readers relate to them? I would put down a book if an author wrote something like, "My right butt cheek and pinky simotaneously started to glow at the sound of his smooth voice."