In my last post, I described trying to write when it just wasn’t happening as “swimming in spaghetti”. A couple of people commented on that being an apt and original way of describing the experience. It also fit me because I’m Italian and could picture just how difficult it could be tangling with spaghetti.
However in my original draft I simply had “sinking in quicksand”. Quite cliché, don’t you think? I thought of changing it to “wading in Jell-O”, which was a little better. Then I came up with my own original description.
As creative people, we can do better than describe over-managed offices as organizing on steroids, like-minded people as two peas in a pod, or terrible storms as raining cats and dogs. I guess that means I’ll have to retire my joke about stepping in a poodle.
If your idea is new and fresh, your narrative should be as well. Descriptions should not only be innovative, but also fit the writer’s voice or the fictional character’s dialogue. As one commenter said, sweating your similes and metaphors usually pays off. I have to agree.
The difficulty if you’re really good at coming up with creative ways of saying things is that, in time, they catch on. “Swimming in spaghetti” has already caught on at my household this week. Soon everyone is saying them and they become cliché. Then it’s back to the drawing board – um…I mean, you have to start all over again.
Are clichés normal? Sure. There are sayings we still use today that were new in Shakespeare’s days of writing. There are sayings of our grandparents that we still like to quote today. Some become so imbedded in our culture that is hard not to think of them and use them. And that’s passable in everyday conversation, but in professional speaking and writing we can do better.
In those instances, you should reinvent the hubcap. One thing you can do is take a well-known saying and give it a twist. Such as, “He is as honest as the minute is long” as a way of sarcastically describing someone you can’t trust. Those are fun, and they take people by surprise because their mind is already saying the ending instead of the twist. Even better though is coming up with an entirely new way of describing a situation, character, or place.
About a year ago, Writer’s Digest asked its editors what clichés should be retired. Here’s their list. See if you can take at least one of them and come up with an original way of describing the same thing.
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- Avoid it like the plague
- Dead as a door-nail
- Take a tiger by the tail
- Low hanging fruit
- If only walls could talk
- The pot calling the kettle black
- Think outside the box
- Thick as thieves
- But at the end of the day
- Plenty of fish in the sea
- Every dog has its day
- Like a kid in a candy store
The moral of this post is to stop being a copy-cat. Like fish in the sea, there are plenty of words to choose from. Think outside the box, stretch your creative muscle, and strike out on your own. It’s easy to lapse into a coma and write as if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, but you’re better than that.
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