I read with interest – I rarely read anything uninteresting – Jeanette’s column about clichés being a mortal enemy of good writing.
She’s as right as rain; if you can’t think of anything original and fall back on worn clichés, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
I learned this journalistic golden rule at my only writing course ever – a night class in the late eighties taught by the irrepressibly one-of-a-kind, Mike Riley. I was reluctantly engaged at the time to the gal who enrolled me in this tutorial, and I used to bemoan to Mike after class, my unenviable feeling of being gradually smothered. I felt I had no recourse short of hurting this poor, vulnerable gal who would surely fall apart if I were to end her dream.
Sure, there must be “50 ways to leave your lover,” but none of them would spare her the devastation of losing me.
“I just wish she would find someone else so I could be alone and happy again,” I remember telling Mr. Riley. He was a sympathetic ear, but there was no easy escape from this impending prison sentence I was facing.
Well, as you may know, with my full blessing, she finally began dating another, but it didn’t feel quite as planned. I spent several months trying to talk her into returning, and then following her wedding, several years licking my wounds and regaining my will to live.
But that’s neither here nor there. Teacher Mike spent much of that semester drumming into us how using clichés is like barking at the moon. There were other written-in-stone rules also. I remember his exhortation about fiction writing: “Always show; don’t tell.” I blurted out, “That’s where I remember you from; Flashers Anonymous.”
Oh, it brought a hearty laugh from Joe and Ally Tilden and schoolteachers Tammy Jackson and my biggest fan, the late, great Jean Cox. Another class clown gem was when a young guy named Clifton read aloud his science-fiction story, and during class discussion afterwards, I asked, “You said this warrior-fella always wore an amulet during battle. Now, was that a two- or three-egg amulet?”
Surprisingly, that one landed like a dead quail, and to this day I don’t understand why. But I do understand the folly of clichés, which often stick in the craw of readers. In short, that dog won’t hunt. Snoopy the Beagle learned that in spades when his numerous manuscripts beginning with “It was a dark and stormy night” were rejected more times than me at the bars in the aftermath of her wedding to that goofball.
But again, we need to let a sleeping dog lie and stay on point. There are plenty of fish in the sea and one day I’ll dangle my hook again. But getting back to the tired, trite cliches, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll never resort to that kind of lazy writing. It’s bull-puckey if you’ll pardon my French.
That being said, Jeanette hit the nail on the head. And on that note, I dodged a bullet when the gal finally got out of my hair. Whew … that was too close for comfort!