Friday, July 23, 2010

Stone deaf and other cliches

As a long-time teacher of non-native speakers of English, I know how baffling a cliche can be. If you're learning a language, those well-worn expressions are new and interesting and often quite different from the metaphors and similes of your first language. This is also true for a young writer. In junior high, you haven't heard the expressions often enough to know that they're worn out.

Some adult writers pose a similar problem. Many people are writing today who aren't technically writers. By that, I mean they aren't well read and they haven't written a lot. To become a good writer, you have to do a tremendous amount of the first and a fair amount of the second. To recognize cliches, you alos have to do that.

You have to read good writers to notice that the only place a cliche will show up in good writing is in a character's speech and that it marks a particular kind of character, one who is not too original in his person.
Good writers don't use cliches in description or narration or interion monologue or documentation or exposition. They take the time and energy to create new similes and metaphors, to inject fresh poetry into their writing.

I've just finished reading another of the Willamette Writer amateur efforts. This fellow has an intriguing plot, but after the four cliche, I found myself finishing his pages only because I was paid to do so. Because of some other oddities of language, I suspect the fellow is a bilingual and therefore may be unable to recognize the cliches as such. This is where a good text editor comes in, one who knows her eats-like-a-bird and busy-as-a-bee.

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