Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hooray For Clichés!

Not too long ago I was sitting in the audience listening to a distinguished writer talk about her craft when she segued into “What Not to Do!”  Then I saw her pick up one of my books.

My mind filled with a numbing buzz like anesthesia for surgery where your soul will be yanked out through your left eyeball. I can’t remember what don’t’s she referred to, but all the while she held my book. Then she opened it and said, “Unless you do it this way.” Ah, a reprieve. Or a backhanded compliment?  I still couldn’t focus. The horror of being so close to the Don’t list left my brain limp.

You have to know the rules, before you can break them. That’s what writers say. And maybe I fall into that category, or at least cling to the outside rim, because I’ve noticed that I’ve done it again.  Another common piece of advice is to avoid clichés.  And yet, one of the literary devices that I employed in For the Birds: the life of Roger Tory Peterson, included several clichés –
            He had eagle eyes.
            Like an owl he worked at night …
           He rose with the Robins
           It was time to make a nest of his own
           Determined as a woodpecker after a bug

I did add a few of my own:  
           He looked as thin and gawky as a fledgling egret
           As focused as a heron after a fish, he perched on the edge of his seat.

But I had a reason. I wanted to create the image of Roger as a Bird, so the reader understood how strongly Roger loved and responded to them. Using phrases like, “he roosted with …” and  “he migrated…” helped to reinforce this.

The use of common phrases and images can serve a purpose if you use them consciously and don’t overdo it.  Seven comparisons sprinkled throughout a 48 page book with 3,000 words seemed to do the trick. 

Will I break more rules in the future?  I’m sure someone will point it out to me.

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