Word Count: 29,868
I've been thinking. (Ah! RUN!)
Being cliche isn't such a bad thing, if you use it properly. You may now be wondering what the heck properly using cliches could be, and I'll happily tell you, then you tell me if you agree.
Here's the closest example to what I mean:
Dialogue tags. The general school of thought is to use beats of action to denote who's talking. But sometimes you can't help but use a "said" or, oh noes, a "replied." Even a lot of the "he stuttered," "murmured," "answered," etc. used in place of "said." These words are invisible to the eye because we are so used to seeing them. The brain jumps right over them and on to the important stuff: the dialogue. And here's where cliches come in.
I think cliches are invisible. I think our brains are so used to knowing what they mean that we immediately infer valuable information from them and move on. Information that may not be able to be conveyed any other way in the story at that moment. So while I know cliches are a general no-no, they do have their purpose.
Take this example from my new WIP. I have three guys sitting in a bar. My MC has just told them that he's ex-Army Special Forces, and the line goes something like:
"[They] look at me as if I've grown a new arm."
Now, this is only one word different than a cliche statement, and when I read it, it takes my mind out of the story very briefly to process the new phrase. Whereas if I had used:
"[They] look at me as if I've grown a third arm."
the brain tends to jump right over this and process it immediately, because it's so familiar. Third arm. Got it. Check. Moving on.
So why is this beneficial? Let's say you've got a scene that's more focused on the action, but you need some setting. You don't want to bog down the action with description, so you can pepper it throughout, but you can also make your description, particularly of lower consequence items or areas, invisible to the reader by using cliche. Her hair shone like the sun. It was a crisp fall morning. It was a dark and stormy night.
Now, in my example above, I am avoiding cliche because I want my reader to slow down here a second and process what I'm trying to say. But if this scene was snappy dialogue and fast paced, I would go ahead and use the cliche, so the reader would infer everything I was trying to say without getting pulled into thinking about what I just said.
Cliches can be broader, too. The setting for most of my book is, by definition, cliche. It's a racist Southern town. There's not much I can do there that hasn't been done. But that's ok. It gives my reader expectations about the town that I don't have to fill in for them. Instead, I can move right on into the twist and NOT-cliche that is my MC. This is probably the single biggest difference I'm feeling between genres right now, by the way. In Fantasy, you have to describe every ounce of your world because no one's seen it before except you. This whatever-I'm-writing is pretty nice because the rules are already there.
I'm not saying your whole book should be cliche, cliche, cliche, especially if it's action packed. Please, don't. But here and there, cliches aren't the awful thing that most writers (at least in my crit group, and a few online) seem to think they are. Sometimes they have benefits.
What are your thoughts?