Thursday, November 20, 2014

We all know what a cliché is, right? It’s a phrase or expression that's been used so often that it's no longer original or interesting; or, a theme or device so commonly used in books, stories, etc., that it's no longer effective.

“No longer” is the key here. These overused tools were once fresh, new, and witty. But now, employing them merely proves that you can have too much of a good thing.

For that reason, unless we want to impress someone with our lack of originality, we should avoid clichés like the plague. For an example, it’s been an eternity since someone first used “an eternity” to describe a long but finite stretch of time. Now, the vibrant analogy is so overworked that it's weak as a kitten. We should leave no stone unturned in our search for more picturesque speech. Or at least, phrases that don’t look like something the cat dragged in.

You get the idea, so I’ll stop beating this dead horse.

In first drafts, it’s okay to allow clichés to sit around the table over their coffee, taking up space and chatting. It’s in the editing phase that we must send them on their way and make space for paying customers. But once you’re ready to clear the room, how do you find the better clientele? Where does the sort of language grow that’s fresh, crisp, and juicy as an October apple?

Here’s where it can pay to write speculative fiction. (Believe me when I say it doesn’t pay financially.) When you create a world and a culture, you can also create everyday expressions that people in our world haven’t heard yet. Which means, of course, that they’re not clichés. 

A character can be as “content as a luglit with his belly full of zikzak” without making the reader yawn. (She might scratch her head in puzzlement, but she won’t complain it’s a cliché.) Another character can say he feels as out of place as a Nobian sand snail in a crystal punchbowl. And a father can state, when a screaming child won't listen to reason, that “Tears can’t hear.” Though these are all common expressions on Gannah, most readers on Earth have never heard them, so “fresh and new” still applies -- even if they’re not particularly witty.

But what if you don’t write weird stuff like that? No matter; writers of earthbound fiction can beat the cliché rap in much the same way. Dig up turns of the phrase from the world you’re writing about. Pull them from your characters’ brains. Envision how someone's experiences might color her speech and let her speak for herself.

For instance: Is your protagonist a fireman? He might say, when refusing to weigh in on a sensitive topic, “I’m not touching that with a 100-foot ladder. It’s hot as napalm.” When faced with a situation that’s too far gone to remedy, a character who loves to bake might say, “That cake’s already burned.” A meteorologist might describe his teenager as being as gloomy as a low-pressure system stalled overhead.

Don’t like those examples? No, they’re not perfect. But I’ll bet you can think of better ones if you put your mind to it.

However, I don’t think you’ll find a better escape from the humdrum than a trip to Gannah. Yes, I’m biased, but others share that opinion. Many readers who don’t ordinarily head for the sci-fi section tell me they enjoy the series, and those who ordinarily do like speculative fiction say it blasts the typical clichéd story out of the sky.

Though each title in the series can be read alone, they also fit together to build an epic tale. It all begins with The Story in the Stars, an ACFW Carol Award finalist in 2012. The saga continues with Words in the Wind and Ransom in the Rock, and concludes with The Last Toqeph, released last month.

If you like to walk alongside believable characters as they deal with emotional situations, all told from a Christ-centered perspective, consider a flight through the Gateway to Gannah into some serious sci-fi adventure.

The Last Toqeph: Will Adam right an ancient wrong and lose his inheritance? Or ignore the truth and lose his integrity?

Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world. When not exploring space, she lives in Western Maryland with her husband of almost forty years and shares the occasional wise word on her personal site, YsWords. She’s been with The Borrowed Book for a year or two now and has coordinated Novel Rocket’s Launch Pad Contest for unpublished novelists since the beginning of time. (Or at least, since the contest’s inception.) She also does freelance editing.


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