Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cliches and Creativity by Temple Hogan

This morning I sat up in bed and looked out my window at the lake.  A slight wind roughened the placid surface of pale blue water and on the distant shore cottages were scattered in an untidy row like a child's building blocks, flung down and forgotten.

Cliche?  You bet.  But I maintain that sometimes cliches have a place.  We can create a mood in a few words, a sentence or two, straight, simple.  An image has been drawn in the readers mind, we're on a lake and it's a beautiful day.  From here you can go anywhere.  You can continue writing a sweet, romance or you can mention what lies beneath this innocent surface, perhaps some horrifying subspecies of life form, or a body of someone important or not, but which drives the whole story toward finding a killer, or some long forgotten item that brings back long forgotten memories of the past.

Cliches often get the job done with a minimum of fuss, giving you the writer a springboard to go forward with your tale.  Like those building blocks mentioned above, they can provide a base for your creativity.  Here's the rub.  You have to use them carefully.  Too many cliches and your writing becomes stale and hackneyed.  There's a cliched word if ever there was one. 

When I'm reading a book, I actually welcome cliches now and then.  When I've picked up a book by a writer who's words are so strong and unrelenting in their purity, I practically weep for the need of a cliched phrase or word to ground me back in the joy of reading.  I think of Phillip Susskind or Cormac McCarthy whose book, THE ROAD was devastating in its power to evoke images.  I envy that kind of writing even as I mentally fight against its almost cruel intensity.  I want to be entertained.  I want some cliches.  I don't always want to be turned inside out and left bleeding.  The need for that has gone along with my youth.

Yes, I still pick up those books and read them, because some masochistic part of me wants to feel a new surge of intellectual and emotional self-flagellation, but sometimes I want and need the the comfort of familiar thoughts and images, like a child with a beloved favorite bed time book.  I really feel a writer can give both to a writer and in the same book.  Not all of our books have to be raw wounds of emotions evoked by a driven use of words, sometimes the writer can be kind.  Our creativity prods us forward with such compelling insistence, that we constantly search for that blazing word, that perfect image that's never been conjured up before, that we forget the readers needs.  I guess that's where as writers we have to consider our market, but in doing so, we fall back into a cliched world.  But again is that so bad?.

I guess what I'm trying to say with this long harange is that our fear of cliches is over-developed, because as writers we have a natural compulsion to expunge them and we should indeed edit ourselves, but maybe not so stridently.  I kind of like the expression sky blue, cornflower, blue, heart beating, placid surface, well you get the idea.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.  Did I resolve your questions on this?  I highly doubt it.  In fact, I may have added to your unrest about cliches or when you're using that red liner, maybe you'll not be so adamant that all such things have to go.  

 

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