Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Push to be Unique

One of my biggest weaknesses as a writer is repetition. Seems like all of my first drafts have loads of the same words used together, and cliche phrases that felt like good filler space at the time.

The other day Cassie read one of my stories and said "This is cliche, make sure this conversation is special to them." and you know what? She's so right.



I had to laugh at myself becasue I often think as I'm writing that there are no new ideas, only new ways to look at old ideas. Even so, I tend to stick to old ideas when it comes to jotting down a sentence. Thank goodness for the editing process and the chance to correct those mistakes.

Which brings me around to purpose of this post--I want your advice. What is it you do to avoid cliche's and twist the old? Have you ever struggled to be unique?

28 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

In the first draft, there will be a lot of those. We just need to recognize them when we edit. (Or have really awesome critique partners like Cassie who recognize them!)

Heather Holden said...

I definitely struggle with this, too. I don't really have any good advice to share, though, other than lots of daydreaming and practice!

Sarah said...

I don't think I've thought about cliches in dialogue before, and for that reason I'm glad you brought it up.

The cliches I'm most diligent in avoiding are metaphors/similes. That's a common bit of advice I take to heart, especially after reading through part of a manuscript several years ago that had a poorly fitting cliche metaphor twice every page. It was hard to see anything else in the story. Metaphors have always been my weakness, so to avoid cliched ones I make them my focus. It forces me to be more creative.

For dialogue my focus has always been to make sure it's true to the characters, which in many cases can make the conversation uniquely theirs, but now I'm going to be on the lookout for cliched conversations.

Louise Bates said...

I've always loved the CS Lewis quote: "No man who bother about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

In other words, if you are telling the best story you know as faithfully as you can, you'll find the cliches and stereotypes tend to fade away.

Michelle Wallace said...

I've never really thought about checking for cliche's...
To a certain degree, don't we use them when speaking in the real world?
Writer In Transit

Leandra Wallace said...

I definitely try to catch them while editing. Though some I really like and will keep. I'm stubborn that way sometimes! =)

ilima said...

Yep. That's why we edit. I have the same favorite phrases I use from book to book and have to put on my creative cap when revising.

Julie Luek said...

I don't know if I have any great advice, but I do appreciate a little insider's glimpse into your editing process. I have a lot to learn in this area.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

I'm like you, I try to catch it in revisions. (Or fix it after Cassie points it out.) ;)

S.K. Anthony said...

I'm so guilty of this! I try to catch them in my many many revisions and.. .yes, thank goodness for the editing process or I'd be known for "that cliche author" lol

Mark Noce said...

I'd be weary of the "there's no new ideas" mantra. It can be misleading. You can take an old idea and put a new spin on it and it will still be fresh and innovative. The key is to turn off that voice inside that says "no," and stick with the voice that says "yes." Just my 2 cents:)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

I only think about cliches before I start writing my story and after when it needs revision. I don't have time or want to think about cliches while writing. It will cross my mind but by then it's lost most of it's dominating power.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I like to think I'm just me...but I'm sure there are a few reviewers who would say I am boring.

I've found the best way for me is to stop trying to be writerly and just write. When I try to be a pro it comes out stilted and boring.

Emma Adams said...

I worry about this a lot - every idea I get turns out to be similar to other books, and it's true that it's impossible to have a completely unique idea. But when it comes to cliches in the writing, I try to catch them when editing and turn them into something new. It's hard, though!

Jessie Humphries said...

One thing I like to do when I find a cliche in my writing is to brainstorm if I can turn the cliche on its ear. Yanno, make it clever somehow and unique to the story at hand. Or just toss it! Haha

J E Oneil said...

How about always! It's what editing is for, right? Good thing for crit partners.

Sweetheart Ball said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jewel Allen said...

Sometimes, I run into a place where a cliche is the easiest thing to put in, but I don't want to obsess about it. I put in the cliche as a place marker and then go back to it later. :-) It's fun to come up with a unique phrase the first time around, for sure.

Kyra Lennon said...

Being unique can be quite a challenge! I definitely have certain words and phrases I always fall back on. That's why I love editing so much! :D

Suzi said...

Cliches are hard to recognize sometimes. Yes, the simile ones stick out easily, but I'm talking about the stuff Cassie mentioned. And story cliches. Sometimes you don't even realize it is, but I guess that's why we have beta readers. To point that stuff out.

Carrie-Anne said...

My writing in the very early days (as a preteen and in my early teens) was loaded with clichés, even right down to a lot of my titles. I thought I was expected to write about certain things if I were writing about young people, not realising how after school special-worthy, generic, corny, and cliché the stories and characters were. My characters grew so much as I grew up with them, to the point where I don't much recognise their earliest incarnations anymore.

John Wiswell said...

Perhaps not useful to share, but the biggest thing I've done to avoid cliche is to open up to writing ideas that seem silly or that no one else would bother with. I love ridiculous stuff - my last blog post was world-building a hierarchy of pillows. People got a kick out of it, demented as it seemed.

A complimentary item is focusing on things I wish I saw. What do lovers never talk about in books that bothers or heartens me in real life? What never happens in fight scenes but would be hilarious? Because I might as well broach the items I'm longing for.

Cassie Mae said...

I seem to be better at finding them in other stories and I'm blind to them when they float in my own. It helps to watch a lot of TV shows and see what's overdone in the storylines to the genre you're writing. And it gives me an excuse to watch Degrassi and claim it as "research"

Peaches Ledwidge said...

I like repetition, but I try to avoid cliches.

Peaches Ledwidge said...

I like repetition, but I try to avoid cliches.

M.L. Swift said...

I've reached the point of making a list of words I overuse, which helps avoid all that same phrasing over and over. When I write one of those words, I try to think of a different, more precise word and use it instead ("get," "stuff," "things," "just" come to mind).

M.L. Swift, Writer

Pk Hrezo said...

Good question! And it's what makes writing such hard work. I try to think of unique ways I've heard people describe or say things and put my own spin on dialog or descriptions that come off as cliche. Sometimes I dwell on a single sentence or phrase for minutes at a time. And sometimes it doens't come to me til later.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I rely a lot on my editor to help me with those cliched things. She's really good at letting my real voice shine through, and the more I watch what she does, the more I can spot those things as I'm writing them. It's definitely a learning process, and different for everyone!