Monday, January 22, 2007


Dawn. Beautiful isn't it?
I don't.
I see rose. Maybe some orange. The sky is muted.
So what's with this "rosy fingers of dawn" crap?
The topic is cliches.

5:30 am and 68 degrees. I am bundled up against the cold in my flannel pajamas. My muses are tightly coiled at my side.
So what is a cliche anyway? Webster's dictionary defines it as "a trite phrase or expression." Writers in JACQUELYN MITCHARD'S class at the MAUI RETREAT discover it can even be a word. One adjective that is so commonly used it becomes a cliche.
Blue sky.
Green grass.
Slow as molasses.
Sweet as sugar.
Red face.
You get the drift. It's no skin off your nose. You're no fool.
I was in shock. Here I thought I was an imaginative unique writer and Jackie was telling me I had more cliches on a page than hair on my head. Than fish in the sea. Than...Than...Oh shoot!
She was right.
Jackie suggested I look at things in a different way. From another angle. Examine my writing closely during the editing process.
Cliche away in the first draft but in subsequent drafts figure out a unique and unusual way to allow the reader inside the story.
"Select your words carefully," she said.
So. Thank you Jackie.
I made a pledge right there in the Vanda room at my first Maui retreat.
No more red lips.
No more empty nest.
No more black as night.
No more sun beating down.
What's your cliche?


Heidi the Hick said...

Ok now I have one more thing to examine when I edit today!!! This is good! Thank you!

I don't know about cliches but I have mixed metaphors. I have two bricks short of a picnic. Or a few sandwiches short of hen house. Or something. It's okay. My flusterations get a laugh every now and then...

Anissa said...

Great post! I need to run through my manuscript again with sharper eyes.

I found myself more inclined to slip into cliche when writing my query letter and synopsis. Thankfully I did manage to recognize those and edit them out.

Anonymous said...

I believe the anatomically correct phrase is either "skin OFF my nose" or "skin OF my teeth". Of course, you could simply go to Wikipedia and make an entry establishing "skin of my nose" as the definitive form of your intended cliche, but then I suppose we'd have to revisit your Ethics posts. -- Yur luvin husbin

Cassandra Tiensivu said...

I tend to use "Well" a lot! Now you've got me looking over my work to see what I've done that's too cliche.

This was an excellent point to bring up. Thank you!

Kimber An said...

This is another good reason to have Crunch Critters. We have a hard time 'seeing' our own cliches. More often than not, I need them pointed out to me.

Anne said...

Funny you should bring up a description of dawn. I've got one in my WIP. While working on this bit, I dutifully arose at pre-dawn for several days straight. I packed my coffee thermos and strolled the streets and parks, absorbing this time of day when coyotes lope home again. Here's what it reads now:

She looked behind to the east. Swatches of coral on a peach horizon, it was a tentative promise, not yet urgent enough to cast a flourish on the clock tower. But her camera and tripod were positioned to catch the drama when it began. She waited for the progression, for the colors to seep skyward. Her reward would come when a thin and saffron light inched down the limestone slabs of the tower.

So, do I pass or fail? Cliches? I hope not.

ORION said...

Oh Anne!!!! Very nice.
You pass with flying colors! (har har)
Heidi - I LOVE those. BTW note the comment from my husband!
This is such fun!

Zany Mom said...

Kinda like dogs. Labs and Goldens and even Puggles are so cliche, LOL.

Holly Kennedy said...

Anne, that's a big pass.
Very nice.

How REFRESHING to talk about cliches this morning vs. the heavy ethical debate Pat posed and then let simmer on her blog last week. I'm with ORION's hubby, time for some lighter fare - maybe a new turtle pic? or a seahorse! Share some water cliches with us, ORION. I'm neck deep in snow here...

ORION said...

OK. I get it. Let me think...
I know.
"Their love was deep as the ocean..."
"The feeling swept over her like a wave..."
"He was all wet..."

Is that better?

Anne said...

Pat and Holly, thanks for the encouragement. Now back to cliches we'd love to hate. How about...

"pursed lips"
"flaxen hair"
"painfully shy"
"lightening quick"


"a shade of green (or pink or orange) not seen in nature"

PS - My word verification, yxmuc, sounds as I feel about these cliches!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes i just want to say that the sky is blue (as opposed to red or peach or purple or pink or cloudy or streaked or some other description). it gives instant recognition and is not verbose and likely the reader takes it in without obsessing over deciphering purple prose words like cerulean or cornflower blue or other silly monikers. kinda like the word said. sometimes needed, and the eyes gloss over it.

Anne said...

I agree, anonymous. Sometimes we must allow the blue sky to be just that.

But one of my favorite lines of poetry comes from T.S. Elliott as he thanked God "for a true, blue dream of sky and the leaping, greenly spirit of trees."
That line has stayed with me since I was 12,and it surfaces whenever I meet a day as he describes.

larramie said...

68 degrees at 5:30 in the morning and you're "bundled up?" The mainland population would trade places with you right now. :o))

Anne said...

OMG, I said Elliott! But this favorite line of poetry is from Cummings. Silly, me. And the line is "blue true dream of sky". Much fresher than "true blue dream of sky". Must get to work.

adrienne said...

My whole life is a cliche.

I have to say it is a bit weird, Orion, that you say "choose words carefully" because the thesis of my post on my blog today was the exact same thing. We're like, totally on the same wave length.

By the way gorgeous picture!

Cassandra Tiensivu said...

I found one I will have to reword:

Shadows of night

ORION said...

How about
The hand of death.
Blood runs cold.
Bright as a copper penny.

LadyBronco said...


Don't forget every lame romance-novel-cliche that ever was.

Bernita said...

I am lost in admiration...
and my heart is in my mouth.
It's not only the tired descriptive cliches one has to watch for, but the pedestrian phrasing.
But one Anon also has a point, sometimes a standard idiom is useful and direct and avoids being too cute.

writtenwyrdd said...

It's hard sometimes to know when the cliche must go when it's description, but in general, you are right.

As for the rosy fingers of dawn, I see them sometimes, usually it's a sundog! Looks like a big peachy-pink column of light.

Anonymous said...

There's a cliche story idea thread over on Rachel Vater's blog, which is fun. Cloning Jesus from DNA is cliche. Who knew?!