Why do clouds always billow? Why do aromas have to waft, while lightning is doomed to forever crackle? Why are noses all aquiline, Roman, or button? Why are flags forever furled?
Is it because we are lazy, careless writers? Or is it because we sometimes type faster than we think? I’d say the answer is a bit of both. Sometimes even the best of us write by rote.
The bane of every creative writer is the insidious cliché—in all its cunning and less recognizable forms.
I’m not just talking about the tired idioms, adages and old saws that sometimes creep into our writing while we’re distracted by the larger issues of plot creation, story arc, and character development. No, not all clichés are that obvious.
In certain contexts, individual words take on the taint of cliché. This is because we sometimes write automatically. Try to write about a rainbow, and the word spectrum automatically appears. Thunder automatically claps. Hearts automatically race. Neck hairs automatically stand on end. Meals are always hearty. Blue eyes are always piercing or icy. And smooth can only be described in terms of silk of a baby’s bottom.
Yes, I’m exaggerating. A little. But I believe we have become conditioned by repetition. It has become second nature for us to borrow short-cuts—words and phrases that automatically trip off our tongues when we converse, but trip us up when we are trying to write creatively.
Ironically, one of my goals as a writer is to actually invent a cliché. Yes! I would love to pen a new phrase that is so expressive, so descriptive, so embedded into the lexicon that generations of lazy writers who come after me will use it automatically. Shakespeare’s brilliant word-slinging has graced our language with countless clichés. I’d be fulfilled if I contributed but one.
My fellow writers—of prose and poetry alike—let us leave the recycling to someone else. Let us eschew the easy, and the automatic. Let us cobble our words in fresh new ways. Let us describe one sunset without purple and pink. Let us describe sand that doesn’t run through our fingers, or squish between our toes. Let us never be taken aback. Or seethe with rage. Or bask in the sun. Or count ourselves lucky. Or dodge a bullet.
Sure, clichés have their place—political posters and bathroom walls.
If you want your work to be fresh, you can’t recycle the same old words and phrases.
Clouds can curdle. Aromas can meander. Lightning can ziggle. A nose can look like a turnip. Flags can brag.
See? It is easy. Even I can do it.
ABOUT LEE ALLEN HILL
STORIES BY LEE ALLEN HILL
POEMS BY LEE ALLEN HILL
ESSAYS BY LEE ALLEN HILL