Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There's No Cliche Like a Sunset: How To Ruin Your Writing Without Having To Think About It

Everyone loves a beautiful sunset. I took this photo from the companionway of our boat a couple of weeks ago. It's the rainy season here in the tropical Pacific and this means great sunsets and sunrises because there are lots of clouds filled with water. It's a pretty neat picture because of the complexity of the cloud patterns and the wonderful colors.

What's the problem then? The problem is that sunset photos long ago became visual cliches--sentimental and overdone. No one can resist taking pictures of them and family photo albums are full of them.

The same is true with verbal cliches. They sound cool and colorful and for the first person who used them, they were. Using a phrase like, "It was a dark and stormy night," something we laugh at when Snoopy uses it, must have seemed like a good idea to the writer who first penned it. Now, though, it's even a cliche as a joke.

So, the lesson is this: Read your manuscripts over carefully and clean out cliches and replace them with original phrases that catch the ear and hold on to it. Because we use cliches so casually in our everyday conversations, you might not be aware of them . There is nothing wrong with having a friend read your stuff to root them out.

It is an absolute truth that every writer needs an editor. In fact, I'll send your teacher the email I just received from the editor of my last book, A Drop of Wizard's Blood so you can see what she said about my writing.

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