RR16 – Creative Clichés

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When I define creative writing to myself, I often find myself mistakenly thinking of it as writing something completely new.  Because I know that others commit the same error, I thought that I would take this opportunity to dispel the myth.  Writing something completely new does not equal “creative writing”; writing something “old” can often result in an astonishingly creative product.  To see why, let’s take a lesson from interior design.  There comes a point when you run out of fresh ideas — ones that look nice, anyway.  When this happens, recycling old favorites while adding a unique twist often comes across much better than a brand new design.  In fact, many interior decorators make an art of finding original ways to use worn-out items.  They even invented a term for it: creative reuse.   In the same way good writers learn to reuse old ideas creatively, to take something worn out and make it exciting and invigorating.

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Re-write something cliché…If you need a rich, juicy description, look no further than the nearest cliché.  All it needs is a little refurbishing, trust me.  Replace some of the words with synonyms or take the same format with a different metaphor.  Because clichés are so…well, cliché, everyone knows what they typically look like.  When a writer changes a cliché just enough to make it different yet recognizable, people sit up and take notice.  Familiarity and rarity combine wonderfully, as Amber displayed beautifully in the closing sentence of her wedding description, “living happily for always.”

Take a hint from photography…try a new angle or different lighting on a familiar subject.  You have a viewpoint that no one else can ever experience.  Use this fact to advantage by applying your angle to a universal topic.  When I turned the tale Winnie-the-Pooh into verse for the poetry assignment, I found myself treating the classic story with my own Milne- and Bond-influenced style.  The result was a well-loved story with a new and interesting twist (if I do say so myself).

Try imitating someone else…This is just the opposite of the tip above…applying someone else’s angle to your own unique topic.  It sounds counterintuitive since most writers strive to develop their own styles, but at least two distinct advantages emerge from this technique.  First, it takes you out of your comfort zone by making you try different approaches — quite important for developing your own, incidentally.  Second, it allows you to use a familiar style for effect while creating your own message.  Megan’s CW15 exemplifies this perfectly.  Shel Silverstein’s trademark choppy sentences, repetition, and unresolved ending became the backdrop to her own interpretation of a classic story.

Mix in the unexpected…Throw a monkey wrench in your own writing (yes, I did just implement my own first and fourth tips: a cliché applied in an unexpected manner).  While you don’t want to interrupt the flow of a piece, you do want readers to stop every now and then to think, “huh, that’s different.”  Try using an oxymoron now and then or use something surprisingly mundane to explain or describe something complex.  In my CW15 I used a fungus to portray something that many people struggle with.  When I wrote that story I didn’t even realize how much impact that humble mushroom would make, simply because it was unexpected.

Don’t overuse any one specific technique…I cannot stress this last tip enough.  A recycled, refurbished cliché can provide some interesting drama every once in a while, but once you overuse it you lose the effect and are left worse off than before.  Fungus will not hold an audience if I use it all the time…instead it will become a new cliché.  Keep looking for new ways to use old ideas, or old ways to use new ideas, but make sure that there is always a new element to your writing, something fresh and bracing and delightfully you.

~c. a.

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