Grandma Says..

Observations and views from a different set of eyes

The Attack Of The Killer Cliches

on May 30, 2013


Calm down..clichés can’t kill you.  If they could, then everyone down here in the Deep South would be six feet under.  But, evidently, clichés are frowned upon in the publishing establishment.  At least that is what my some of the critiques have told me. So, what’s this southerner to do?

My novel takes place in the here and now, in the south, and my characters use clichés.  Why?  Because that’s how we talk down here…at least the people I’ve encountered.  Since my main character is using my voice (or I’m using hers…I can never get that straight) I naturally write dialogue with the dialect and clichés we use here.

So, I’m stuck…I can’t move forward and I can’t go back until I resolve this dilemma. What to do…what to do!

Do I change the setting of my novel to a place where clichés never pass anyone’s lips? Do I give up my attempts to be natural and honest in my dialogue?  Or, do I knuckle under and try to find another way to portray my characters?  Shoot, I feel like I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.

Now, not all the characters are southerners and they won’t be using phrases such as “stick it where the sun don’t shine.”  Future chapters will bring us characters from New Orleans, New York and as yet unknown locations (although I ‘ve heard rumors that some bloke from Australia might join the group..but he comes with his own set of clichés.)

But, my main character loves down south cliches…it’s her heritage, it’s her voice.  It’s who she is.  It’s me.

So, come on everyone, help a writer out.  I feel like I’m running through hell in a pair of gasoline shorts.  Give me your experience and your advice.

If you are one of the people who critiqued my first chapters and noted the use of clichés…know that I heard you and I love you for being honest.  If clichés are a stumbling block in the path of this novel, I needed to know.  I just need a little help in deciding if I go whole hog and keep my cliches or run for the hills and find another voice.

Help an old lady out..will ya?

Author’s note:  If it helps anyone to know this, the novel I’m writing is supposed to be funny!  I don’t know if that makes a difference or not!


53 responses to “The Attack Of The Killer Cliches

  1. Gwen says:

    Cliches exist for a reason – as you said, it’s how people talk down there! In one of my books on writing (and I have many), the author suggests turning a cliche on its head. That is, take a character who seems to be a walking cliche and give him/her characteristics, speech patterns, and problems that defy the stereotype.

    I had the opposite problem with a story. It was about an abused girl who, on her 18th birthday, finally decides she’s had enough, fights back, and runs away. I tried turning the cliche on its head – the abusive parent was the mother, not the father – but none of my critiquers could understand why the father had assumed a passive role. Why did he let this abuse go on without putting a stop to it? My solution was to show him passed out in a drunken stupor (another cliche, I felt), but it seemed to quell the comments.

    Now I wonder if it wasn’t the cliche, but my storytelling ability. Maybe I didn’t do enough to convince readers this situation could really occur. I plan to do another round of revisions, and show the father’s passive role without the booze.

    • I’m sure you’re going to make it work. My character is definitely a cliche and she uses cliches. Since she is the main focus and characters will come and go throughout the novel…I think I have to keep the cliches and just make sure I don’t overuse them.

  2. tric says:

    There is a very successful author over here who immediately springs to mind, he regularly writes in the local dialect.. He also wrote the book the film “The commitments” was based on ( a very well received movie about 20 years ago) which kept the dialogue spoken exactly as a real Dubliner would speak. I think it may depend on your prospective audience but personally I would go with it. It is in keeping with the characters. What about the recent book “The Help” and others like it, they use local accents. I’d be afraid you would lose the characters identity or lessen it. You have a lot ahead of you yet. Keep going, but sometimes we can be listening to too many voices!

  3. dmauldin53 says:

    I say use the clichés. Look at some other southern writers. I know most of them used clichés. 🙂

  4. Dave Higgins says:

    If you listen to real speech it is full of um’s and eh’s, and dialect. However, we automatically edit these out when considering meaning, so written dialogue seems more realistic if you use fewer colloquialisms than you would in real speech.

  5. I like a good cliche or two so as far as I’m concerned go ahead! I know it’s frowned upon but then so was women getting the vote! a voice is a voice be confident and use it warts and all! 🙂 ps. thanks for following! 🙂

  6. TamrahJo says:

    Perhaps, rather than nixing the cliches, you just need to tweak the character development – if the critiques are about the cliches, then for some reason, people didn’t ‘get’ the character…
    Or, they aren’t immersing themselves in the book – I’ve found that the minute someone asks my opinion on something, I read differently – Instead of the author being responsible for me ‘realizing I’m reading’, It’s my own editor’s brain!

    If your gal is the Queen of Cliches, then so be it! My vote is that you look for ways to keep the cliches and make us love her, anyways….
    (You didn’t give your book to a bunch of Yankees for critiquing, did you? ROFL 😀 )

  7. I’m going to say keep ’em…and be aware of them. If that is the voice of your character, she needs to be genuine…maybe only having a few chapters makes it difficult to get the entire feel…I don’t know.

    Now that you are aware of them…use the information/critiques as guideposts. Do you have any fellow southerners reading? Maybe they don’t see what the rest of the country sees…being from Canada, I had no idea how much I actually REALLY used “Eh” in speech until I was away for a little while and returned…it’s true…we use it A LOT.

  8. btg5885 says:

    First off. You are a true GRIT (Girl Raised in the South). My wife wears her cap proudly. So, if you say any of the following:
    – Bless her/ his heart
    – That dog won’t hunt
    – Were you born in a barn? (said when someone leaves the door open)
    – Thank the Law-erd
    – Praise Jee-zus
    – Did-ja-eat, sometimes shortened to Je-et?
    – That one is a poor pasture to lead your cows into
    – Fine and dandy

    If you use any of these in a novel based in the south, “I reckon” I’ll read it. Just channel your inner Pat Conroy and go girl. BTG

  9. Hey Cranky, no takers for this one eh?

    I would like to throw in my twopence (two cents?) for what it’s worth.

    As I see it, if you you want a fully-rounded, ‘real’ character then why not cliches? That is what people use – people we know, people we talk to, even ourselves. We use them, so why not characters on a page?

    Just as you would use dialect/slang/accent to create a rich character so you would use cliches. Of course, everything must be in moderation but in an appropriate setting, with an appropriate character wouldn’t that make a character more ‘believable’?

    Go on Cranky, if it’s autobiographical and that is you in ‘real life’ then go for it – or it wouldn’t be you, would it? It would only be two dimensional you.

    I await to be shot down by you ‘Editor’ followers. 🙂

  10. ioniamartin says:

    I am always a firm believer that you should write for you, as you would normally and then refine at the end. If cliches are part of the character then have at it. No one will ever please everyone every time.

  11. mewhoami says:

    Personally, a writer needs to have their own writer’s “voice”. This is something that you most definitely have and part of what makes your “voice” are the cliches. So, I think that if you drop them, then you in turn will lose an important part of your “voice” that makes your writing ‘you’. Plus, if your novel is meant to be comical, then I believe the cliches will greatly benefit the goal you’re trying to achieve. On another note – I plan to buy a copy of your book when you publish it.

    • I love you! And, I agree, cliches have their place in the “humor” genre. I’m being careful not to overuse them…but they are part of me and thereby part of my character.

      When I send out the manuscript, I’ll include the fact that I’ve already got a couple of people waiting to read it! Maybe they’ll overlook the cliches! 🙂

  12. Basharr says:

    Keep, good cliches add so much to snicker at.

  13. mummyshymz says:

    I say keep the cliches 🙂 In my opinion, cliches add a depth to the character when used in moderation. However, when used too often (for example, when the same phrase is used by different characters multiple times) it distracts from the storyline. If very obscure cliches are used, it risks alienating readers who are not from the same area.

  14. John says:

    As the commenter above said already … moderation. Yes, cliches may be how you speak, but, in writing, and using that many, can make a character become unbelievable. Maybe as you’re editing, cut every 3rd cliche, or even every other one, and see how that goes. Balance is important, especially if you are writing for a wide audience … if outherners were going to be the only ones reading your book, it might be ok to leave them all in, since they’d sound like regular, everyday speech. But, for those of us outside of the south, using lots of those types of cliches can turn your character into someone annoying … and, it’s possible it could reinforce some negative stereotypes. So, don’t cut them all, because you need it to be believable … but too many can become off-putting to people aren’t familiar with the every day rhythms of southern speech.

  15. sknicholls says:

    Cliches are almost always a part of humor and so are stereotypes. I am from the south and read a book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. It was about an even that took place in the south and the southern characters had both southern characters and southern cliches. I really enjoyed the book, esp. the character Chablis. My only problem with it was that the author, a journalist from NYC, kept misspelling southern words, like Chigger, he spelled chigar…that bothered me a bit. If you know it and it is part of who you are (obviously) I say go with it!

  16. mcwoman says:

    As a reader of your first couple of chapters, I only saw two of what I would call cliches. Because I’m from the north (I think you would call me a Yankee.), I haven’t heard a lot of the southern vernacular. I personally think “stick it where the sun don’t shine.” and “I’m running through hell in a pair of gasoline shorts” are pretty funny, and I’d leave them in. Just don’t overdue. You are a terrific writer with a wonderful sense of humor–your blog shows that everyday. And the best comedians always take a well-known phrase and stand it on its head, don’t they?

  17. Kevin says:

    Jeez, I meant to comment yesterday and now you have way too many comments for me to read through. Here’s my worthless advice: You should infer in your writing the way your subject speaks.

    When you write that your subject speaks with a southern drawl, my highly intelligent brain immediately converts your well written, proper grammar laced dialogue with some redneck “voice”. We expect some characters to talk a certain way. A truck driver might have a PhD in math but we think anything he says is “trucker CB talk”.

    For example, living in Hawaii, we used a lot of “pigden English”. If I wrote my character saying the words you wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about. So I would infer he spoke with the local slang and you (the reader) would understand it.

    On the other side, I like all those southern stupid redneck sayings. You should totally make a whole blog out of it just for my enjoyment!

    See you over on my Worthless Advice blog….

  18. keladelaide says:

    Don’t think I can help but good luck finding the solution that sits best with you.

  19. Bastet says:

    OMG so many comments…well excuse me, but I’m not going to read them all, ok? You’re writing real people not a grammar manual…keep them.

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