Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

I am re-posting this thought because we had so much news going on last week that it fell by the wayside.

Sophistication. As in, is your writing?

I can forgive a lot when I am reading a book, and most of the time, unless the grammar and structure are extremely poor, I won't reduce a review score based on such things. But, and this is a big but, nothing knocks me out of a book faster than the overuse of cliches, similes, and the heinous mixed-metaphor. So, let's discuss the definitions first:

Cliche: a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.

Simile: a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared.

Mixed Metaphor: the use in the same expression of two or more metaphors that are incongruous or illogical when combined.

Most who know me know that I have a certain amount of disdain for "Style Guides." This is not because I think that they hold little to nothing in the way of value -- they do have some value. My disdain for such things is more because I feel that all artists should refrain from writing "like everyone else." Sometimes style guides are taken too seriously by novice writers, at the expense of developing their own unique style and voice. However, in the case of the above mentioned nastiness, I have to agree with the majority of style guides.

Nothing will ruin your work faster than a cliche. Why? Well, it's because a cliche was originally someone else's idea. It makes one's writing seem lazy, trite, and unsophisticated, and it's one of the first things I edit for: they just slip in there, subconsciously, because we are so familiar with them. Sometimes we need them, and they are appropriate when used correctly within the context of your story, especially in dialog, but overuse in the main narrative is instant death for your story and your credibility as a writer. So, find them and get rid of them by making them your own.

Onto Similes ... I don't have anything against the simple simile, but again, overuse will only muck up your work. Sometimes we have to compare things in order to get the full thrust of meaning, but too many "likes" on a page start to read as if a California Valley Girl from the 80's wrote it. And for heaven's sake, don't use simple similes for description. I once read a book where the author said a particular bridge in the underworld looked like the Golden Gate Bridge. Well, if the reader has never seen the Golden Gate Bridge, you've lost them entirely. What one person thinks is easily relatable is not necessarily so to another, so be careful when making comparisons, especially descriptive ones.

Lastly, we have the most idiotic of them all: The Mixed Metaphor. Just don't do it. All your writing will gain from this is the illustrious station of being the butt of a joke.

I am not pointing fingers here. No writer is impervious to these three plagues, including myself. This, again, is where editing -- the dread of all writers -- becomes the writer's last stand.


Henry said...

Who hasn't seen the Golden Gate Bridge? I get your meaning and I agree with it, but most people know that bridge, or should. In that example, maybe the writer shouldn't use the GGB as a comparison if the universe of the novel has no relation to the earth as we know it.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Agreed. More information that is descriptive was needed for effect. But that was all we were given, so it added no mood to the scene. There should have been drama about the way the bridge looked, its foreboding nature. I tell writers to look at the image of the bridge but then describe what they see in their mind using that image. In a horror story, imagery is everything: you just can't be thin and use a simple comparative description like that.