When I first started to write a novel, I thought I knew what I was doing. After all, I figured, I’d read lots of them. What could possibly go wrong?
Just in case there was something I might have missed, I enrolled on a 5-day residential novel-writing course. I won’t mention the name of the organisation. Suffice it to say it is very highly regarded in the field of literary endeavours. Maybe I just hit a bad week, but it was a pretty expensive waste of time and I won’t dwell on it, except to say that I’ve since heard an interview with one of the tutors where she actually admitted how bad she’d been that week. (I think she only did it once; she wasn’t temperamentally suited to the concept of coaching at all.)
We’re all familiar with those websites where we can compare the prices of similar products. But this post isn’t about comparing like with like; for the purposes of making our creative writing even more interesting and imaginative, we should be comparing apples and oranges, if you see what I mean.
We’re not talking cliché here, folks. What we are trying to achieve is a fresh, inventive way of expressing a person’s characteristics, hopefully with a new spin, by using a comparison that hasn’t been used before. Arresting imagery brings another dimension to our writing and if we can help our readers to build vivid pictures of our characters in their minds we are onto a winner.
Along with adjectives and adverbs, the poor old cliché comes in for a lot of stick.
A cliché is a platitude, a figure of speech which has been so overused that it has lost its original meaning and relevance and is no longer effective. Often humorous, these trite expressions would have been considered original and loaded with meaning when first used. Clichés are often derogatory, but they are not necessarily false or inaccurate. In his autobiography, ‘Moab is My Washpot,’1997, Stephen Fry says, ‘It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue.’
They’re clever little things; readymade idioms often summarising lines of description in one pithy phrase that everyone understands because they form part of our cultural fabric. They can also have an implication which is different from its true meaning. For example, ‘do you think I’m made of money?’ implies just the opposite.