Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The War on Cliche

I'm always looking for the lyrical language, whether as a reader or a writer.

Mind, not literary language (despite what others may say that it's the same) but the 'pretty language', which I jokingly referred to sometime ago. For me, as I keep pointing out, it's always the "right word at the right time." Look at the two of my current favorite writers, Kelly Link and Theodora Goss: these writers seem to combine prose and poetry into one solid narrative when they relate their stories.

Which is why am constantly reminded of Martin Amis' non-fiction book, The War Against Cliche, whenever I write.

Fortunately, I have a heaven-sent editor when I write in the form of [identity-protected], who scrutinizes each and every line of all of my stories (including my last one for Fully-Booked). She was the one who warned me not to reach for the first available phrase that comes to mind as I write.

And it's true: one thing I've realized as a writer (and something I've always known as a reader) is that words-- in all their phrasing and structure-- have so much incredible capability, so much fantastic potential when combined with each other.

Think about it. When you think of certain words, it's so easy to think of "a clap of thunder" or "a cacophony of words and sounds" (which I admittedly used) or even the already-in-a-joke-in-itself "it was a dark and stormy night." But the problem with these phrases is that they're so oft-used, so much abused that nobody really thinks of these words when they read them: they're like shiny glass surfaces, so unbecoming that nobody really looks behind the glass itself.

So what do I do? I know the power of words, I know how much it is capable of. So I reach past that terribly repeated phrase on the nearest shelf, the cliches that we lazily reach for, and see if I can come up with something better. And when I do, I feel so goddamn elevated, so energized at realizing that, "Wow! I didn't think that I could up with something like that." Almost like poetry, like almost reaching that pinnacle that I attribute to where Link and Goss are. And then I joyfully dive back into the writing again like a lemming with floaters.

So here's a little something helpful I'm passing on to you as one writer to another: watch your words.

7 comments:

skinnyblackcladdink said...

so what's the difference between 'literary' language and 'pretty' language?

dodo dayao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dodo dayao said...

OT: Just found out. Congrats on the win! :)

rei said...

Good point! I try to do that when I have time, but more often I ditch creativity just so I can get to the point. I guess that's the difference between ordinary writing and extraordinary writing ... but I'm either too lazy or too apprehensive to make the leap.

It's something I'll have to keep in mind, though. Where'd you find the book? :)

banzai cat said...

skinny: actually, supposedly there's none. but for me, the difference is how effective the literary language is. for example, there are certain writers who have the elevated language but who leave me cold. but there are others whose prose make me feel like a crystal bell, ringing from each and every word. those writers who can do that-- those writers use what I call 'lyrical' or 'pretty' language, and who I want to emulate.

I know it's subjective but there it is.

dodo: hehe thanks. :-)

rei: it's true that it's easier or safer to go for the ordinary writing. but that doesn't mean that it's altogether bad. for example, one writer I like, graham joyce, combines ordinary writing with phrases that could have come out of a poem.

because I have a tendency to use that method, I've found that my own capacity to elevate my own language is growing-- which is ironic because I remember writing a post months ago about trying to go for the 'pretty' writing but unsure how to go about it. so I guess the best way to improve your writing is still to try it. ;-)

as for amis, I know it's available in most National Bookstores. check out the literary crticism shelves, near the classics I think.

skinnyblackcladdink said...

bc: what i'm having trouble with in the first place what you mean by 'literary' language. i don't get it. is there such a thing?

accepting the fact that what you call 'pretty language' is what you find 'subjectively lovely' as 'pretty's' definition, then what's 'literary'? you don't consider Theodora Goss and Kelly Link 'literary'? how is it that 'literary' language can't be 'pretty'?

banzai cat said...

It's all semantics, man. Mine in particular. To consider, literary language is nothing more than 'elevated' language but really, it's just language.