Friday, March 9th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Using Clichés as Story Starters, Scene Builders and to Chisel Your Way Through Writer’s Block

Cliched quotes from college applications.I’ve talked about cliches before in my “How to Write Like a Professional Journalist” post some time ago.

In that post, I stated that writers should work to eradicate clichés from their written words.

Clichés are shortcuts: a hackneyed phrase we use in a collective to get a point across very quickly. It’s easier to tell someone you didn’t come to work yesterday because you were “sick as a dog,” instead of going into detail about your fever, vomiting and chills.

Used in context, your friends will also “get” that you had the worst hangover ever if you let them know you were “sick as a dog,” after last night’s bachelor party.

In writing, however, clichés tend to make a writer sound like an amateur. (There are some exceptions to this, of course. I’ll get into them in another post.)

One thing clichés are useful for is giving your brain an immediate picture of what’s going on. If I use the term “man cave” to describe a guy’s office, some kind of image is going to flash into your mind.

The thing of it is, what I meant when I said “man cave,” and what you perceived (or saw) when you heard “man cave,” are probably two different things. So, in writing, you should take the time to explain things, rather than settling for the cliché.

Another thing clichés are good for — since they deliver an immediate picture postcard of the idea – is to use them as story starters or scene ideas.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Search your current writing for a cliché and re-write that passage to say what you really meant. (If it’s in dialogue, leave it alone. Dialogue is one of the exceptions!)
  • If you want to write, but feel like you’re blocked, find a hackneyed phrase you like and see what it conjures up. Spend fifteen minutes free writing a journal entry, the beginning of a short story, a scene from a much larger work, or a poem.
  • Do the same if you’re writing your memoirs, letters or working on genealogy: use the phrase to prompt a memory, then write what you recall.

If you can’t think of a phrase, the ClichéSite has a tremendous list of clichés. Wonderful!

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Happy New Year, 2012!

Champagne bottle blowing its cork.Wishing everyone a safe, happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

To my writer friends:

May this year bring you more sales than you’ve ever had before. May your story ideas be ever-flowing, and may you not suffer any writers block. May we all be in a best-selling anthology together. 🙂

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Writer’s Block – Like Smashing Wasps

Wasp Nest I found this wasp’s nest under my eaves on Sunday. I was stunned by its size…completely amazed at how fast this thing got there.

Suddenly, I was facing a very unpleasant experience. How was I going to get this thing down without a zillion stings? (And believe me, I know what a zillion wasp stings feel like–ask me later.)

The Husband of Awesome™ and I dithered over what to do. We had some wasp and hornet spray, but using it meant getting within 20 feet of the nest, according to the can. Was that far enough away?

We could try shooting from the upstairs window. Very awkward.

Not only that, we’d used this spray on tiny nests, beginners, if you will. Would it work on something this big?

We considered knocking the nest off with a broom, again from the upstairs window. This would mean shoving the entire broom out the window and swatting at the nest with little leverage. And what if we knocked that nest into the window?

With one good swipe, we might be able to drop both nest and broom to the deck below and slam the window against angry wasps. Could we do it?

Are you seeing how this relates to writing, and more specifically, writer’s block?

For me, getting through writer’s block has always been about knowing where I want the story to end up…and just maneuvering to get there. I don’t have to know all the details to keep the story flowing and the words coming.

Here was an interesting twist: I had my ending (So long, wasp’s nest!) but I was blocked by the consequences of what my actions could cause. Paralyzed by indecision. There were so many possibilities, I didn’t know which was best or most appropriate. Have you encountered this problem with your writing?

Here’s what we did about the wasps:

  1. We waited until 11 p.m. (hoping the cooler air would make the wasps more sluggish) and used the spray from the upstairs window.
    • This resulted in some VERY ANGRY wasps. (Do you know the sound of a zillion wasps rumbling within the confines of their own nest? Frightening. And louder than you might imagine.) They poured out of the nest like gasoline. It was all we could do to shut the window.
  2. We learned that 5:00 in the morning is cooler than 11:00 p.m. (Duh.) and decided to give the spray a chance from the deck below.
    • This resulted in some less-than-stellar results. The spray mostly dissipated into a cloud about 10 feet from the can as the propellant lacked the oomph to reach the eaves. The narrow stream of insecticide that reached the wasps only served to rally them. Coolness was obviously not an issue.
  3. We abandoned the broom idea, even after examining all the brooms we own and choosing the heavy-duty push broom from the garage.
    • I really wanted to try it, but the Husband of Awesome™ didn’t relish the idea of spending the morning in the ER with me…

And that’s when he got a brilliant idea. Why not use the hose?

And there was the answer to the writing dilemma…when multiple possibilities loom, try them all. (I attempted all ideas, even the “bad” one. After all, the broom had been considered, approved, chosen, and carried to the window…) What’s the cost of writing it all to see which works best…some words tried and discarded? Time lost doesn’t count: it’s a wash when compared to what may be lost in indecision.

Working through all the possibilities gets the creative juices flowing. In the midst of apparent defeat, a new idea may be, as ours was, formulated, considered, and executed.

The next time I’m faced with similar writing circumstances, I’m going to write each possibility to see which one fits the situation the best. I hope that doing so leads me to that final possibility: the one I hadn’t considered at first (or even thought of) but is the right one to conclude the situation.

Decimated Wasp's Nest
So long, wasps!