Writers create. We struggle to dream what hasn’t yet been dreamed; to fashion something with our brains that is strange and wonderful and utterly fantastic to the senses. It must have never before existed until it was conceived of our minds; birthed by our hands.
All that sounds terribly romantic. But occasionally, even the best writer can be tempted to adopt words that aren’t his or her own. I’m not talking about plagiarism. This is a little more legal. It’s the darned cliché. It’s the behind the eight balls, the raining cats and dogs, the busy as a bees, and the hit it out of the parks that really get under editors’ and readers’ fingernails. Why? Not only are people weary of the same old same old (see?), they find themselves reluctant to invest time or money in a writer (who should be by default, creative) who steals words from dead guys because it’s still legal.
You might wonder, what’s the big deal? So I’m writing a story and I choose to make my character run like the wind. Won’t that help to further the scene by allowing the reader’s mind to fill in blanks? I say, “Sure, if you want your reader to fill in your blanks with their baggage.” If you’ve got a gangsta’ sprinting over a crooked pavement wearing brand new, lifted kicks and a red bandana tourniquet keeping a blistered bullet in place, and suddenly your reader is transported to a place where a hot blonde in a gingham dress is riding a thoroughbred through a meadow of daisies, the effectiveness of your scene is busted. And it’s going to be different for every reader. By raising your pen and declaring surrender to the cliché, you give up continuity of scene (and maybe even your story).
The more I think about it (there I go again), the more I wonder: why aren’t clichés considered plagiarism? Is it because the original writer should be flattered? Should I shake my mugger’s hand and compliment his taste in pleather purses? Should I commend my burglar on his lock-picking and offer him a bologna sandwich and milk? Why are some phrases bound to be shackled in quotation marks for eternity, while others are left out on cliché parole?
I’m absolutely guilty of using the cliché in my own writing. But it looks like I’m bound to becoming aware of my own abuses the good old-fashioned way (geesh!). Just now, I copied this blog into one of those cliché finder tools on the web. Guess what? It didn’t find a single cliché. So editors, keep your cliché eyes calibrated. It doesn’t look like you’ve got any stiff competition (damn it!) in that department (I give up).