Writing Clichés: Let’s have a little science, please

Guest post by MICHELE HUBLER

Clichés. Some writers fear them, avoiding them “like the plague” (William Safire). Others, such as authors of potboilers, may embrace them as a kind of shorthand. A writer offers up a cliché and the reader is in familiar territory.

Whether you use a cliché is a stylistic choice. Whether the cliché is valid is a matter of common sense and science. Here are five clichés without scientific merit, a couple of which are just plain silly.

Scene: You’re in the deepest darkest jungle a writer can dream up. Your companion is bleeding badly. You quickly rip a strip of fabric from your skirt, shirt, whatever, and bind the wound.

Hold on. Unless you have been in the jungle so long your clothes have dry rot, fabric is very hard to tear. In fact, it is more likely your companion will bleed to death while you are still gnawing through a few threads.

Scene: After getting caught in a spring downpour, you come down with a cold or worse.

Okay, Jane Austin employed this cliché to good effect. But she didn’t know any better. These days, we have webMD. We know that getting wet, even wet and cold, doesn’t cause illness.

Scene: Having survived the spring downpour, you brush your hair dry as it curls into a lustrous and perfect coif.

Puh-lease. Apparently the people who perpetuate this cliché don’t have hair. Your arm will give out long before your hair deigns to curl.

Scene: A car speeds away. A bullet hits the gas tank. The car explodes.

Hmm. See Mythbusters episodes 25 and 38. Conclusion: Extremely unlikely to impossible.

Scene: Unfortunately, you were in the car with the exploding gas tank. You’re in a coma. To the joy of loved ones, you finally wake. Your first words are, “Who’s up for a game of World of Warcraft?”

Huh? While the writer may need to move the plot along, he or she also needs to acknowledge the reality of recovery time.

Clichés can be fun turned on their heads or treated with a wink and a laugh. Just make sure your readers are laughing with you, not at you. It is easy to take candy from a baby, if you don’t mind the baby’s screams. And the slobbery gooey candy.

About the author:

Michele Hubler is an instructional designer by trade and a thrift store maven in her free time. Check out her new blog http://secondhandfirstclass.wordpress.com/ as she shares a lifetime of tips acquired from a lifetime of shopping secondhand.


2 comments on “Writing Clichés: Let’s have a little science, please

  1. […] Writing Clichés: Let’s have a little science, please (barbaratyler.wordpress.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tags Arts, Freelancing, Itch, Long Tail, Mailing Lists, Popular science, Wellcome Trust, Writers Resources Categories Uncategorized […]

  2. True, clichés are a bore, but only when the reader spots them. Where would pulp fiction be without clichés? A simple way to stop the reader complaining is to make the cliché plausible. So when the protagonist bumps into his best friend in a Buenos Aires bordello, just in time to save his life, sketch in a little back story for them both. Show why their mutual arrival in that bordello is no lucky coincidence but, given the circumstances, inevitable.

    The reader will forgive you. Better still, the story will acquire a timeless mythic tenor 🙂

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