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Avoiding Cliches

When I'm working on my first drafts, sometimes it's easier for me to choose a cliched description and keep going. It's natural. These are the things that come to mind first and when you're writing a couple of thousand words in a sitting, they're not going to all be gold.

It's a note I get back from all of my earliest readers, "Take out the red pen and get rid of the cliches."

In fact, that might have been my favorite note from one of my favorite authors after he'd read one of my books. Warren Murphy, the creator of "The Destroyer," wrote me a this:
"You sometimes have a tendency to slip into cliche and, once in a while, at the worst possible moment. I know it comes from working fast because I've fought that tendency too, but it becomes particularly awful. While it might, just maybe might, be okay in dialogue, coming in the author's voice it means "I couldn't think of anything good so I'll write this crap instead." As I said, I've done it a million times and it hurt one's writing...a lot...because it lowers the level of the conversation with the reader who doesn't expect that from us wordsmiths."
It's amazing what hearing words of advice from an idol you respect will do to force you to fix the problem.  This was after he'd read Lost at the Con and Man Against the Future and I still had (and still do have) a lot to learn about writing. At first, I was a little defensive, but I realized he was completely right. And he'd written a hundred books and I'd written two.

It's something to watch out for, for certain. But it's not just in the text, it's in the story as well.

I stumbled across a list from Strange Horizons, a spec-fiction magazine, about the cliched stories they receive constantly and it got me thinking about how I can approach things differently.

Here's the list, but here are a couple of my favorites from it:

14. White protagonist is given wise and mystical advice by Holy Simple Native Folk. 
21. People whose politics are different from the author's are shown to be stupid, insane, or evil, usually through satire, sarcasm, stereotyping, and wild exaggeration.  
42a. Women have more power than men, and it's very sad how oppressed the men are.  
42b. Everyone in the society is gay or lesbian, and straight people are considered perverts.  
42c. White people are oppressed by oppressive people with other skin colors.  
 50. The story's main (usually only) female character doesn't have much subjectivity; we see her only (or at least primarily) through the idealizing eyes of a male character.
It's a long  list, but these few made me chuckle. But then it made me wonder how much bad and cliched storytelling there is out there that a publisher was able to make such a thorough list of stuff so bad that they're sick of seeing it over and over and over again. And some of these are just bad ideas for stories or parts of stories in the first place. (see list above.)

The key is to find new ways of saying things. That isn't just limited to the sentences in a story, it applies to the whole thing.

Work on it. Think about it. I know I will.

This reminds me of my list of 50+ rules and tips about writing that I've collected over the years, I'm still adding to it. Go, click on the numbers and read my essays about each one. It may well help. Or not. I'm not the boss of you.

In my current writing, I'm still plugging away on my fantasy novel and it's coming together really well. I'm incredibly excited about it and, even though it won't be for years and years, I can't wait for people to start reading it. I've continued work on my non-fiction book proposal. I've always gone in and finally (I think) pinpointed the last few problems in The Aeronaut. And I'm still working on a super-secret project of massive proportions that has me out in the weeds thinking about stuff I never knew existed.

For upcoming appearances, I'm going to be at Dragon Con, Salt Lake Comic-Con, and New York Comic-Con all right in a row over September and October. I'll be on panels at all three cons, so be sure to stop by and see me at any of these.

We're also doing our reading series at the downtown library in Salt Lake City on August 20th. I'll have more information next week about the exact room and time.

That's it for this week.  As far as my work outside of all this: I'm keeping busy for Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith. 


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