Monday, July 27, 2009

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled MSS

cliché--an overused meaning or rhetorical device; a stock character or dramatic situation that precludes or at least stifles any potential for originality; a form of literary shorthand that presents a person, place, circumstance, or thing in such a commonplace way as to avoid any further need for description or individuation; a deliberate or unconscious statement from the author that all is vanilla.

One of the more persistent cliches is a four-to-five-hundred-word feature composed of as many cliches as possible, demonstrating dramatically how what was once fresh and plangent with originality has become trite and predictable. Another is the easy-as-pie Internet cliche finder. Most cliches were at the time of their origin an highly visual or descriptive trope that became overused because of its clarity but has become through overuse an irritant.

Cliches do not stop as catch phrases, they extend to characters such as the absent-minded academic, the hit-person-for-hire who is kind to animals, the Irish cop, the Jewish pawnbroker or banker, the Italian criminal, the lazy Mexican, the red-neck Southerner, the effeminate male homosexual, the butch female homosexual, the bored housewife, etc.

The acquisitions editor confronted with an engaging story is likely to begin with a higher tolerance to an occasional cliche, growing more alert to these infractions if they persist. Thus the cliche joins the comma splice, indifferent spelling, and questionable usage as mechanical causes for rejection. The dedicated writer makes a search-and-destroy (probable cliche here) anti-cliche mission a part of every revision, starting with word usage then moving to an examination of each character who makes an appearance, finishing with any characters who may be mentioned but not brought on stage, thus coping effectively with the built-in writers' hubris of writing unquestionably cliche-free prose.

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