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Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing Tips: The Dirty Dozen

Any writer worth their salt (hey, there’s one!) will instantly recognize this list as the dirtiest collection of overused phrases and concepts known as a clichés. Without a doubt, clichés emerge in all genres and styles of writing by accident, an unfortunate happenstance of the written word sometimes offers no other turn of phrase. I suppose, that is excusable. If done intentionally, I would hope the insertion was meant to be ironic; otherwise their very passing suggests a serious reconsideration of the source material. At least in this writer’s opinion (whose opinion is often snarky…You have been warned). Take careful note of their use so you can avoid the same pitfalls:
1. Mary / Gary Sue. I had to put this at the top because a flawless person can only be found in bad writing. Humans have flaws, so characters should too. I wish everyone would just accept that.
2. Everybody Dies / Lives. The culmination of a great story, no matter what medium, needs to have an original ending. The collective deaths or happily-ever-afters are just plain embarrassing.  
3. Villain Monologue’ing or Giving Hero Time to Escape. It’s ironic and comical in James Bond. It shouldn’t be used anywhere else. A well written villain does not allow for an easy escape nor do they detail their plans to the hero. It’s just bad for business.
4. It’s Been Done Before. This is something writers say. They fear the attempt of a story because the concept has been done before. Everything has been done before in some fashion. Take a chance and make it yours.
5. Friends Marrying Each Other. Two friends from a group getting together stretches this cliché enough. But when everyone marries each other…ugh…if you can’t tell…I’m shaking my head.
6. Bad Boy Can be Turned Good. For some reason this attracts all the ladies. But it’s not realistic. It makes for great emotional scenes, but take it as a red flag. People who are damaged need to work themselves out of the hole. The “bad boy” should too.
7. Damsel in Distress. Women are not all helpless flowers in need of saving. Period.
8. Calm Before the Storm. I’m not sure what storms these people have witnessed. Storms can take a while to build, but they can also be abrupt and violent. Avoid phrases like this that generalize.
9. It’s Quiet. A Little Too Quiet. I wonder what will happen next. Will someone jump out and startle me? I would have never guessed.  
10. The Orphan Hero. If you need to emotionally abuse or seclude your hero at their introduction in order to gain sympathy from readers, perhaps this isn’t your biggest problem.
11. Characters are Either Good or Evil. In life there is a gray area. There should be in writing. Characters can be loyal to a team, yes, but they can also play both sides, or switch sides. These alterations can make this age-old battle interesting.
12. Black as Night / Bright as Day. Redundant much? Description of places, people or things should be done in a manner that avoids obvious or worn-out ideas like this.
Some of these clichéd ideas can be executed well, but typically they just stink of a lack of creativity. Although this lists the twelve most shameful clichés a writer can use in my opinion, I’m sure each and every one of you has several of their own to add. Feel free to comment if you have a particularly irksome cliché you would like to share!  

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