Monday, April 12, 2010

The Cliche Trap

We're always trying so hard to avoid cliche in our writing, and lately I've been noticing how much I fall prey to their traps in my daily life. This has become mostly apparent in my workplace, where I talk about the weather and what everyone did the weekend before and how much we're all addicted to coffee and how we can't wait for Friday afternoons. While I'm sometimes sheepish that I'm not being very original in my exchanges, it's comfortable. Engaging in small talk makes me feel like one of the team.

So what happens when your characters really do talk about something that's considered "cliche"? What if you really do need your characters to have a water cooler moment where they all talk about the freakishly warm spring weather? How do we make these moments truly honest and something people can look at and feel comfortable with rather than find boring and predictable?

Like most writing, I think it comes down to character. I'm the kind of character who would have a hyper-aware conversation about the weather with my cube mate, then turn around and write a blog post about small talk. Maybe he's going to have a conversation with me about the weather before turning back to his computer and talking to himself for the next half-hour, possibly about the cage match on Pay-Per-View later that night. Maybe it will spark a story in my supervisor about a woman who gave her umbrella away on a rainy day, only to have it given back to her by a completely different person weeks later when she was struggling through a sudden downpour. I think we have to remember that even though on the outside a scene may look cliche, it's really not because it's being experienced differently by everyone who's involved. And by looking at those different perspectives, it becomes a singular event, less boring, and less predictable.

And maybe next time I find myself aware of such things, I can try and turn up my perception radar and ask myself, "What makes this a real scene in reality, and how could I re-create it on the page?"