Just a couple of writers on a road trip through life. Hop in, hold on, and don’t forget your rain boots.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Spooktacular: How clichés annoy the skubala out of people (and five alternatives)

I learned a new word this week. Skubala. It’s a dirty word, and I learned it in church. Oh yes, I did. I’m not going to say what it means, because if you can’t figure it out from context clues you’ll just have to Google it. I enjoy using it. It makes me happy. 

Halloween is a time to be someone other than you. Dressing up like a ghoul or goblin or alter ego or zombie or Bigfoot gives you a power you don’t have in normal people clothes. I would like Halloween better if it wasn’t only one day a year. I really like dressing up and I feel like I should get to do it when I will stand out. People are all dressed up at Halloween. Some women use it as a time to fulfill their desire to dress all trampy. And to that I say, to each his own. It’s all good in the hood. No skin off my nose.

Be a word ninja. Ninjas are cool.
Some people wear costumes that show their super nerd side. I love The Big Bang Theory. It's partly because Dr. Sheldon Cooper is awesome and looks like a sexy praying mantis. Okay not really but that is my favorite compliment ever. If I tell you you look like a sexy praying mantis, I am inches away from making out with you.  But also I like it because they do a lot of dressing up, usually as comic book superheroes and characters from The Lord of the Rings. I have an epic and undying love of nerds. They are the wind beneath my wings. They really get my motor running. At the end of the day, nerd is the word. 

You see? You see what I did there? I’m sure you did, if you were paying attention. I put all kinds of clichés up in here. This blog is fully loaded. The whole ball of wax. The whole nine yards. All the tea in China.

I think clichés have their place in fiction and in journalism. Sometimes we use them facetiously, sometimes to flesh out a character, sometimes just to be cheeky. But if you use them all the time, you look unoriginal. You lose your readers, because you sound like every Tom, Dick and Harry. You can go too far the other direction – I think I can safely cite the movie Juno as an example of jargon gone wrong. Writer Diablo Cody invented her own language and her own clichés and then wrote an entire movie in them. I thought it was creative but cutesy, and in the end it detracted from the story (for me, anyway).

There are so many clichés and common sayings and idioms and colloquialisms that you couldn’t possibly avoid them all, but here are five tips to help reduce the number in your stories. 
  1.  Read your writing aloud to yourself. Nine times out of ten (did it again!), you’ll catch phrases that seem a little too familiar. If you do, try rephrasing, or cutting them out. Chances are you don’t need them anyway. I’m on a roll here.
  2. Have someone else read your writing. Other people notice things that you might not. A trusted reader circle can help you avoid errors, and if you have a cliché problem, usually a good peer group will catch you in the act and help you get back on the wagon.  
  3.   Make a list and check it twice. If you have a cliché habit, it may be recurring throughout your writing. Go through and pull out some of oft-repeated phrases, and make a list. Then scan each piece before submitting.
  4. Let some go. There are always going to be points that seem best emphasized with a good old fashioned cliché. Let it happen, occasionally. Sometimes you need something tried-and-true to drive that point home.  
  5.  You’ll always hit one out of the park when you’re being authentic. Clichés aren’t authentic. They are a way to hide behind what you are really trying to say. Don’t be a chicken. Just say it. Say it loud and say it proud.

And here are a few clichés to never, ever, ever use, not just because they annoy me specifically. Okay, yes, because they annoy me specifically. But you've got to admit, these ones are bad news. 

 At the end of the day. As if something changes around five o'clock.
 When all is said and done. This sounds like something a politician says.
 As luck would have it
 Better late than never
Cross that bridge when you come to it. But what else are you going to do when you come to a bridge? Ignore it and jump in the river and swim for it?
Cry or sleep like a baby, or sleep like a log. Babies don't sleep very well, they cry to communicate, and logs don't sleep. They just lay there until someone comes and chops them to bits, which you don't want people doing to you when you're sleeping. Ever. 
 Fun in the sun. No rhyming, I'm begging. You're not Dr. Seuss. Unless you are Dr. Seuss, and then it's okay. But I think he's rhyming in heaven these days.
 More power to you
 Rolled over in the grave. I don't like when my zombie family members have restless leg syndrome or start tossing and turning in their graves. It's not okay. 
 Wrong side of the bed
 A case of the Mondays. Thank you, Office Space.    
 That's my personal worst offender list. So don't use them. I mean it. It’s Halloween, which is a good time for me to put on my ninja suit and come hunt you down. Because everyone is dressed as a ninja during Halloween, so I won’t be noticed or recognized. I don’t want to have to ninja kick you in your special places. But I will. 

And also, don’t dress up as a sexy nurse or a sexy referee or a sexy milkmaid. Come on. Been there, done that. You should be a sexy chicken, a sexy mailbox, a sexy giant whiteboard, so people can write their phone numbers on the place where your boobies would be. And drawing attention to the boobies is sort of the point of trampy Halloween costumes anyway. Be original. I dare you.

PS: I was looking for lists of cliches I found this on Amazon

Julie Simmons-Wixom is a reclusive writer, so don't try and get candy from her tonight because she will probably ninja kick you in the teeth. Or maybe she'll just hide and turn off all the lights and lay on the floor. Email her here if you have a better idea. 

Leave a comment below. Comments are awesome. People who comment are double super awesome, because they make us feel like we're not just talking to ourselves. 

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