Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Bit Cliché

Once, for an assignment in a high school English class, I started a story with the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night.” It was followed by a very amusing tale of two friends whose car broke down and who were forced to walk though the night to a nearby relative’s house. I don’t remember much else about it except there was a musical interlude featuring excerpts from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music and the fact that I started every sentence with the last letter of the previous sentence.
But my teacher didn’t like it.
Check out the article about the phrase
on tvtropes.org. Or, y'know, go read
It wasn’t because my story wasn’t good, it was because of that beginning. I had thought it was funny. In addition to an evening of bad weather, the picture that “it was a dark and stormy night” conjures up for me is Charles Schultz’s Snoopy, perched on top of his dog house with a typewriter.
I thought it was clever. My teacher thought it was cliché.
I guess it was, in a way, but what’s wrong with that? Clichés permeate our language. Most of us use them without even thinking about what they mean. It doesn’t mean they’re not useful or interesting, but the fact that they’re everywhere puts them on every writer’s blacklist.
Or does it?
Today I came across a list of “681 Clichés to Avoid in Your Creative Writing.” The writer of the article seemed to take a huge amount of satisfaction in shoving as many clichés as possible into the warning that other writers should not do so.
I shouldn’t do it, eh? Challenge accepted.
I love my writing prompts. I enjoy taking a photograph, drawing, or phrase and making up my own story about it, so why shouldn’t I do it with clichés? Unlike someone else’s visual work or quote, clichés aren’t owned by anyone, so I wouldn’t owe royalties to another artist or writer. Unless I’m going to track down some of Benjamin Franklin’s family and give them a cut of whatever I make off of a story inspired by “A penny saved is a penny earned.” (Which would probably feature characters descended from a famous person whose sole means of providing for themselves is by royalties collected from use of their famous ancestors’ words.)
So I guess if you need me, I’ll be perched on top of the dog house with the typewriter.

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