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!

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