9/18/2007

A Cliché by Any Other Name

As a writer, I’m always looking for just the right words to accurately describe situations, objects, and ideas, and oftentimes I find myself resorting to the use of clichés to do so. Does this mean I am a lazy writer, or does it somehow show superior skill when it comes to putting together sentences? The question haunts me almost daily. I am never completely convinced if I should steer clear of clichés or if I should leverage them. After all, they've been used so many times by so many different people that they've lost their expressive power, right? Will using a cliché help me bring my point home or simply make my writing seem trite?

To wrap your head around just what I am talking about, check out ClicheSite.com, the site with the largest list of clichés, euphemisms, and figures of speech, “complete with definitions and explanations.” For a writer, this site can be a treasure trove of inspiration, a literary toolbox of sorts. Or can it? I’m inclined to think that many phrases listed in this site are value-added expressions that can offer relevance and immediacy when it comes to our day-to-day conversations, and in most instances can be more effective than any high-brow term or far-reaching phrase that could be used in their place. But I also believe that relying too heavily on clichés will render your writing innocuous and give it a pre-fabricated feel, leaving readers with a stale, styrofoamy aftertaste. Writing should be lively, original and engaging, not an robotic exercise saturated with grammatical one-trick ponies and pre-packaged literary devices coming at you rapid-fire style.

Does it all depend on the audience you intend to reach? Ah, there’s the rub. Some think of clichés as roadkill metaphors, and maintain that using them in writing is simply a shortcut to thinking--no matter who the audience is. Other opine that when carefully selected, clichés will actually spice up even the must dull, threadbare writing (technical documentation, anyone?). Whether a stymied writer or clever word artist, using clichés is almost always a tricky ordeal. The best way to use a cliché? Turn it upside down and inside out to convey something entirely new; that way you’ll be sure to make waves with your readers by cleverly pounding them with surprises. Yes?

3 comments:

Amalia said...

I "opine" there must be an equillibrium as in everything else.

Cristina said...

my favorite cliche of yours - "that's so last century"

alf said...

as long as they bring something to the table, using a cliché is ok to support the ideas you are trying to communicate, but stay away from the obvious...

Myself, I prefer to take clichés, change one or two words and cast some ambiguity, but I prefer being rather vague generally when writing, I don't care if the message gets through, I care about creating a wicked landscape on the reader's mind.