A zillion billion years ago, during my undergrad days, I had a writing professor (Dr. Trowbridge) who often wrote a large T, which meant “trite,” across sentences or phrases in our MSS that were hackneyed or clichéd. Generally I’d get a number of T’s on every page.
I remembered those big T’s when I ran across this advice from Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black:
"When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché. They can be combinations of words: Cold sweat. Fire-engine red, or phrases: on the same page, level playing field, or metaphors: big as a house. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sometimes things themselves are cliches: fuzzy dice, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, long blonde hair. Just keep asking yourself, “Honestly, have I ever seen this before?” Even if Shakespeare wrote it, or Virginia Woolf, it’s a cliché. You’re a writer and you have to invent it from scratch, all by yourself. That’s why writing is a lot of work, and demands unflinching honesty."
After reading her advice, I looked at one chapter in my novel – and holy cow, who wrote all this silly trite nonsense!
"He put his feet on his desk." Trite.
"He leaned forward intently." Trite.
"Wyatt breezed into the bandroom." Trite.
An evil elf must have gotten a hold of my computer, because a writing genius like me couldn’t have written this dreck!
But before I could work myself into a freak-out frenzy in which I stuffed all of my novels into the trash can, I made myself a simple assignment: Forge an awesome writer sword. Then use it to chop out the trite phrases, and replace those phrases with something I've never heard before.
|Sir Terry Pratchett forged *his* sword out of meteorites, with the help of little blue men, because he is that awesome.|
Well, not on the level of rewriting each sentence to say, “Pharby ek gooley mekhenowitzh." But make yourself reach a little. Pull in some words you wouldn’t ordinarily use (sometimes I like to scry through a dictionary just to see what surprises come up). Also, dig more deeply into your character’s pov and see things 1) that interest her in 2) ways that only she would see them.
Of course, coming up with something that’s not trite or clichéd takes some thought, and generally I am against sustained thought because right now my brain is about the size of a walnut. But this exercise yields some crazy interesting pages, and when you’re done, you’re like, “Hey! I made this!” and it feels pretty awesome.
P.S. Hi, I'm a new blogger! I'm Melinda, and I graduated from Hamline last Sunday whilst being very pregnant, and it was great. In baby news: Now that I’m back in Missouri, I have been actively trying to evict baby, but he just ignores me and continues to work on his kickboxing skills in the womb. ETA is still the first week of August. Anyway, I am happy to be here!