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Something old into something new

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

As an English major, I am often asked, “So, do you want to teach?” Usually people are taken by surprise when I say I do not. One of the myriad reasons I can cite is this: I fear that the majority of papers that I’d have to read would abound with poorly structured sentences and, perhaps more awfully, the dreaded cliché. As somebody who ranks good storytelling as one of the top three reasons to be alive, I find clichés unacceptable. I’m not saying that using a cliché automatically makes a piece of writing bad. However, it is generally wise to use them sparingly and out of necessity.

So what about a cliché makes people like me cringe? It certainly isn’t that the clichés are poorly constructed turns of phrase. In fact, a large amount of clichés became clichés because they were written by great writers (and were not clichés at the time). If you’ve ever declared “It’s all Greek to me,” that something “vanished into thin air” or proclaimed something an eyesore, you’re quoting Shakespeare. You get the idea. There are a lot of clichés, and they aren’t bad at conveying meaning… they’re just trite.

I have no doubt that many an earnest (and budding) writer has been truly distraught and wept enough to fill buckets, and then proceeded to describe the unfortunate event as “crying a river of tears.” Simply put, there are better ways of saying that without me wanting to drown my sorrows in a bottle of Schnapps.

Now, I’m not saying that you should hold off on writing that epic novel about a young protagonist who’s going to save the world with only a MacGuffin and an aged mentor in tow. There are plenty of stories that have been extraordinarily successful that all tell essentially the same story: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. The trick is they do it with a certain unique style that gives it a quality beyond your average cliché.

What I’m trying to say is that people like old stories with new faces. Plot structure will hardly vary, but the way a piece of writing is written and presented should be new. Clichés take away from that sense of novelty, and as I said earlier, they make a piece more boring to read if they are numerous. If there’s anything you don’t want your story to be, it’s predictable. You want to present what you have to say in a way that’s new and novel. You want to say a probably old idea in an original way.

So in the future, try to refrain from referring to sad skies and towers of strength, to people sly as foxes and blankets of snow. It’ll make your writing more interesting by leaps and bounds.

Or, if all you’re interested in is a fat paycheck, I recommend going the complete opposite direction and throwing every cliché in the known universe with an abusive relationship or two, and bam – New Twilight.

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