Your Cliche Just sent me to Full Metal Jacket

I remember Mrs. Morris’s creative writing class when she said “Avoid cliches like the plague.” Since we were in high school, we thought it was moderately clever. It makes the point, which is to avoid cliches when writing.

That’s something I ran into in a fantasy book. There I was, amongst the dwarves. They’re in a camp, it’s an army, and they’re doing army stuff. Now, a lot of that looks pretty modern, and if you research the history of armies, you see that stuff like uniforms and equipment doesn’t really become a thing until the 1700s. Aside from that, this -is- a fantasy so I’ll accept most of it as being part of the fantasy.

Then there’s this gem, when a recruit calls some sergeant sir. Oh yeah, you know what it was:
“Don’t call me sir! I work for a living.”
Bam! Instead of reading what was a pretty good book up to that point, I’m dragged out of it and thinking about where I’ve seen/read that cliche. Mostly movies and such with modern day armies, because it’s a fairly modern phrase, I think.

And the cliche is American, I’m also pretty sure, though other languages and cultures might have something like it.

I’d say that if you are really attached to a cliche, to try rewriting it in the parlance of your particular culture, time, and language. Cliches are shorthand for certain modular pieces of speech that we use, thus you can use them to establish characters of being from a particular culture and class and time.  They’re not all bad. If a character speaks in cliches, that’s just what they do. Just, as an author, don’t flip your wig when you use them. Now, to go take a powder.


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