1. Dreek Lass
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    Dreek Lass New Member

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    Avoiding Cliches and Generic Wording

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Dreek Lass, May 31, 2013.

    Just like everybody else - I am sure - when I am on and in the zone, I can describe and word just about anything that I picture in my head astutely, and whatever I type out or write down, it comes out perfectly depicting what I saw in my head. Readers of my work have commented and told me this, but it is not like they have to. I know when something that I have written is on point and when it could do with some more tweaking, in order to represent the scene that I am trying to denote in a more vivid way. The frustrating thing is: when I do know that my words are not showing the scene in my head as clearly as they could, sometimes I can't think of any better ways to describe what I am seeing. Other times i think that my description is ok, but it is not potent enough, and then I will read something else, and see how that author has described the very same thing that I was trying to describe, and kick myself for not seeing it before.

    Most of the time, it is such simple wording, but it REALLY hits the spot in terms of helping the reader to see what is going on in the author's head.

    How do you guys stay away from description cliches, and generic wording in sentences? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Helps when you're an EFL speaker. J/k. Seriously, after reading George Orwell and his writing advice, I've become rather conscious of avoiding clichés and generic wording, but on the other hand, I write SF/F with my husband, and first and foremost we want to tell an entertaining, clear story. It's very difficult to avoid clichés and common expressions, but I do want to avoid them to the best of my ability since I want the writing to be effective. Coming up with original similes is something of a challenge, but I guess that's also the fun part :) I never use idioms/metaphors common to my native tongue though. It seems that just never works.
     
  3. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Welcome to the world of writing. I doubt the most distinguished authors in the world could write a single paragraph without going over it half dozen times.

    I don't think it would be half as fun if you could just roll off perfection page after page. I actually enjoy the 10th stab at something when I finally nail it - that sense of triumph is immense. Accept the challenge!
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    with an exceptionally large vocabulary and better than average memory... plus good editing skills, so i can catch ones that slipped in when i wasn't looking... ;)
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    What Maia said, and also by having the kind of imagination that sees metaphors in everything.
     
  6. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    ditto. That helps me TONS! a good idea for getting more vocab is by reading. and I mean reading a lot. I read about five books per week if i get my hands on enough of them -and they usually average at 800 pages.
     
  7. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    First off, it is the story, then the words. Change the obvious and tried old clichés, or over used similes where you can see a better way of phrasing the sentence. However, these days--with so many voices coming at you from all sides--it is nearly impossible to remove all clichés from your writing: seeing how new ones pop-up all the time. So, focus on getting the story out in as concise a manner as you can, because even if you do get all the clichés out...in a few years some of the phrases you left in may have become clichés by that time anyway.
     
  8. Crimestick
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    Crimestick New Member

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    honestly I expect my first draft of anything to come out looking or sounding cliche or pedestrian. like a shapeless lump of clay. Then I go over it a few times and let my imagination (and critical eye) take over. Writing is a hobby that I enjoy but have no real education in, but this works for me.
     
  9. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    This is what I was thinking. Having a large vocabulary gives you a larger well to draw from when you write. :)
     
  10. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Well placed metaphors and similes are great, but be sure not to over use them, as they can greatly reduce clarity. Most often, the straightforward way to describe something is the clearest way, and thus it is the best way.

    "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it." -Ernest Hemingway
     
  11. PyrZern
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    PyrZern Member

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    I actually embrace some of the cliches :)
    I'm ESL though, and vocab is my archenemy.

    Still, I like to think out loud and write them as I say them. That way, it sounds more real, and less like writing. If someone reads me an article, I'm lost right away. I'd have to read it myself, or someone else will have to sum it up and talk to me about it instead.
     
  12. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    You read 4000 pages a week? Pfffffffffffffffft! Where do you get the time to breathe?
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You just play with words - yesterday I came up with an utterly appalling one - "startled fingertips" as a metaphor for breath :D (faint breath touching someone's skin 'abruptly' and then disappears - you can kinda see why I came up with this) But hey, that's where you start having fun and I dunno, create something new. Not everything you try would work, but that's how you do it. And I like "startled fingertips" so I intend on using that elsewhere, for something more fitting lol.

    For me I like to listen out for rhythm - poetry is highly useful for this. Poets often have to come up with the most creative and vivid images with the fewest words. Apparently I have a knack for consonance, my friend tells me - I hadn't even ever heard of what consonance was - but now I look at my writing and it really is everywhere. Now that I am aware of it, I'm trying to use it to my advantage.

    In short, just have fun with it. Sometimes if you're really not in the zone, you should just come back to it later when you edit. Or what I do is, I go on google images and find something that looks like what I want to describe - it's easier when you have a solid picture in front of you. Half the battle is actually seeing the image vividly enough to know what you want to highlight.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    at the fairly fast rate i read [50 pages per hour], that comes out to a mind-boggling 80 hours per week... so, when do you earn a living and how is there any time left over for writing?

    if you speed-read or just skim, then how can that help your vocabulary, since all you get that way is the gist and can't savor each and every word?
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not a massive fan of Hemingway, but I like this little tidbit from him!

    The authors I love reading the most—with exceptions, like E Annie Proulx, Terry Pratchett—are the authors who disappear. I want to get sucked into the story they're telling me, not jump in and out of it, admiring prose, metaphors, word-choice, what have you. AFTER I've finished reading the story (and got to read it again), then is when I take notice of these techniques.

    It's like the difference between plain, delicious home-cooked food, and excessively cheffy nonsense you get in some 5-star restaurants. Which do I prefer to actually eat, not just look at? Guess ...nah, g'wan, guess...!
     
  16. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Fill your head with images. Browse the internet go to sites featuring pictures of wildlife, flowers, gem stones, landscapes.
    Go to Ebay and type in a noun - could be say Purple then hit one of the categories like antiques and you'll find everything from carved
    purple jade, to incense furnaces to silk scarves. Let things catch your eye. Mull over them. The carved jade can come back to you
    when you're fiddling with a sentence - instead of thoughts were churning in his brain, you could write - His mind was full of coiled dragons.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The gift of writing is to shine a different light on the mundane, so the reader sees something barely noticed in an entirely new way.
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I try hard to not read fast if I'm reading something good. When I was a teenager, I practiced speed-reading a lot, and it helped me pass some tests, but now I almost wish I hadn't bothered. Savoring and admiring good writing is one of the pleasures of life. Give the good writer all the time you can. To me, speed reading is like touring the Louvre in fifteen minutes. Why even bother? What's the point, from the artist's point of view, of creating a masterpiece if the viewer is only going to look at it for a few seconds?

    Reading 4,000 pages a week is not something to be proud of, I think. Quality, not quantity.
     
  19. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    For me it's following the KISS formula. I try to keep things easy both for me to edit and for a reader to read. After that, it's staying away from the cliche phrases and fixing them in the story itself. I'm on my third draft and am rewriting half of my first chapter to remove something cliche in there. Plus keep one thing in mind about your rough draft (he calls it first draft but I consider that to be the rewrite I give the story to start shaping it up after I throw the words onto the screen.) :

    “The first draft of anything is shit.”


    ― Ernest Hemingway
     
  20. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I agree. I can finish a 300-400 page book in about 6-8 hours, which is considered 'vociferous' by many people but 4000 in a week? I would dare say that is 'speed reading' and that true comprehension is lacking.
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I try to do this too, cos I have a tendency to get wordy. It's also easier to spot very used idioms and figures of speech if the prose isn't all that meandering.

    As for reading fast, maybe some people can read super fast and still digest the content as well as someone who stops every now and then to taste and mull over certain words or scenes? I know I can't though. I'm a slow fiction reader.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Speed reading has its uses, but it can get in the way of appreciating good literature. Speed reading lets the brain pick up on keywords to get the essence of what is written, but all structure, all artistry, is sloughed away.

    That's not reading.
     
  23. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Bulls eye! Do you want a Cupie Doll or a Stuffed Animal? (And I'm joking, not being sarcastic just for the record. :) )
     
  24. timwilson
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    timwilson New Member

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    Redrafting is the key. The first time I write something it is derivative swill. And I don't care. I want to get through the draft quickly. Then I can go back and improve it.

    I also try to do a daily writing exercise which stretches my creative muscles. I might try to describe a glass or a brick as many ways as I can. Just like practising scales for the pianist, this makes it easier for me to just fall into doing this by accident.

    I would caution against going over the top. There's a fine line between avoiding clichés and writing prose so flamboyant it detracts from the text. When I read my favourite books, I very rarely say "Wow that is a good description". Looking back it I may think "Yeah that was good", but there worst thing that could happen is if the language gets in the way of the story. If I wanted the best turn of phrase, I'd read a poem.

    Happy writing
     

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