Cliches -- (why) are they bad?

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Thread: Cliches -- (why) are they bad?

  1. #1

    Cliches -- (why) are they bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by TL Murphy
    I was recently criticized in another workshop for making a similar comment, but I used the word "cliche" which you did not. One on the comments was that, calling something cliche' is itself cliche' and why can't we come up with a better way to talk about cliche's than calling them cliche's. The commentor went on to argue that using cliche's in the right context can be very effective. In a nutshell, he was saying that a cliche' can allude to a cultural understanding that is a more efficient use of language than explaining the feeling or situation. Pete, I tend to agree with you about the over use of popular phrases. But I also recognize that a cliche' (or idiom) used in the right context can be effective and even poetic.

    I would very much like to hear more from you on this subject - why, in general, It's a bad idea to use cliche's in poetry.
    I have no credentials so my words have to speak for themselves.

    Cliches become that way by having a high truth-value. That is, they speak to people in a clear, concise, understandable way of something that exists in the observable universal world. They're a code that's understood by the sender and recipient.

    People object to them in writing (especially poetry) because writers are supposed to come up with new codes.
    Last edited by astroannie; October 19th, 2017 at 01:52 PM. Reason: fixed a typo
    Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.
    — Robert G. Allen

  2. #2
    In that same thread I said:

    Quote Originally Posted by Darren White View Post
    [...] I am very much interested in any reply on cliches. Because I am forever guilty of using them. I can hide behind the fact that I am a foreigner, but that's only a cowardly excuse. Because when I work hard on a poem, I've learned to avoid them. So WHY, when I am writing those kind of poems that just flow from the pen in an emotional state of mind, do they slip in time and again. And why is it bad?
    So, apart from (not) being original, why exacly it is bad. I know I have to avoid 'love' 'heart' 'soul'. But often people point me at expressions I am using that are cliche, but I have no clue, unless I do extensive research on every line I write (which I often do, believe me). But my spontaneous writes are sometimes riddled with them.

    I write poetry, nothing else (except critique hah!)
    Hidden Content Hidden Content

    I am a clay potato in a strawberry field
    -Darren White, from "Clumsy"

  3. #3
    I think people tell each other they are supposed to be bad and it's sort of an "I heard somewhere..." phenomenon. Everyone's heard it from several sources so it must be true.
    Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.
    — Robert G. Allen

  4. #4
    I don't think the issue is with cliches per se. They can be effective and they can make a statement that is clear to the majority of readers in a very short and concise way. I have no objections to the use of cliches when they are the best way to say something.

    The problem with cliches is that everyone uses them, from the very top of the publishing pile right down to the deepest pits of the bowels of literature. Some are used more often, and they are more common the further down the heap you travel. What then happens is the more common cliches are over-used in bad writing. At times they're almost a signpost identifying that what you're about to read lacks originality, invention and thought.

    Cliches are like wasps: I see more wasps than have ever stung me, but my first reaction is to swat at them with a hard object if they ever come close enough. I am not alone on the wasp front, and I doubt I am alone when I see an over-used cliche rearing its head in any form of writing. If I and other readers are turning away, and if the writer has the literal dexterity to present their message in a better and more captivating way, then in my book that makes cliches something to avoid.

    Often, when it comes to using cliches in poetry, the damage has already been done by others. That makes it a perilous path to tread and one I'd rather avoid in both my writing and my reading.

  5. #5
    For the most part, unlike prose, where diarrhea of language allows for creative writing recovery, poetry strives, by it's very form, for the fewest and best words. A cliche inserted uses someone else's words, leaving even fewer for the poet to create themselves. A short-cut, often by the creatively lazy. And, yes, I know there are times we all use them, but for me, it needs to have purpose. (Don't bother listing the epic poems).

  6. #6
    Some writers can deliver a cliche with panache and others a bit flat...I like them
    The only one who can heal you is you.




  7. #7
    Ha! I love ‘in a nutshell’ in a post about cliches.
    There was never a great genius without a trace of madness. Attributed to Aristotle.

  8. #8
    The reason cliches are bad is the same reason for any writing being bad. It comes down to laziness and lack of imagination. A cliche by definition is something used so repeatedly it is part of common knowledge. Ask yourself this: if your goal with what you are saying is to rehash something that has already been said then what is the point of writing at all?

    I will say cliches have a narrow usage. They can be used if the intent is subvert the cliche, such as in satire, and also in dialogue if the idea is to capture an authentic voice in a certain colloquial style. But beyond that they should be banished.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by sas View Post
    For the most part, unlike prose, where diarrhea of language allows for creative writing recovery, poetry strives, by it's very form, for the fewest and best words.
    However, sometimes too many words are inserted into poems, making them dull and repetitive to enjoy.

    Quote Originally Posted by sas
    A cliche inserted uses someone else's words, leaving even fewer for the poet to create themselves. A short-cut, often by the creatively lazy. And, yes, I know there are times we all use them, but for me, it needs to have purpose. (Don't bother listing the epic poems).
    Yes, we may all use cliches at times, but why in a poem if one is trying to be creative? How can one be lazy and creative?

  10. #10
    "True Wit* is Nature to advantage dressed--
    What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed"

    * VERY complex definitions of "Wit" in Pope's day. From the context, though,
    we can infer he meant something like 'enlightened intelligence'. He did NOT
    mean 'sparkling humour', as we would now.

    Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1711)

    I think Nellie (and Pope) nail it. Cliches are just lazy writing. Seems to me there are two kinds:

    !) OLD PHRASES.
    Everybody instantly knows what cliché phrases
    mean--'can't teach an old dog new tricks, 'save a penny for a rainy day', 'every cloud has a silver lining', but when you encounter one in an otherwise good piece of writing, your subtlety and aesthetic receptors automatically go into FREEZE and you hear 'information only', or nothing at all. It's like Aunt Maisie's story about what happened on her driver's road test in 2002: when the old bird starts to tell it for the 57th time, the entire family goes into collective Fixed Smile Mode and they receive just enuff information to know when she's done. Vibrant, excited conversation stops during the telling, just as vibrant, excited reading stops while you smooooth your way thru a cliché phrase. You ALREADY KNOW IT, so why would you expect
    nuances or beauty?

    2) BEATEN-TO-DEATH WORDS
    In my opinion, these are much more serious when used in poetry, because their use is common and goes beyond laziness into distortion or flat-out meaning LESSness. Please consider: "the essence of his heart flowed into my very soul". When you get your head out of the wastebasket and wipe your mouth, can you tell me what it might mean? Well, shift the focus--did it elicit strong emotion from YOU? And isn't that what it's all about? Poetry deals with emotional awakening, deep understanding, new insights, communing with whole new ways of seeing. At least, that's what it's supposed to do. If you're going to run the Boston marathon, do you haul Grandpa's combat boots out of the attic trunk because they served him wonderfully thru three years of hell in the Pacific. . . .or do you go buy a new pair of Nike Airs?



    ________________________________________________

    "I believe in nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the Truth of the imagination". Keats, ​Letters

    "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls -- it tolls for thee. " John Donne, Meditation XVII

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