January 10, 2017
January 11, 2017

Alex Schumacher

Avoiding Clichés Like the Plague!


W elcome back to another fun-filled installment of Bread Crumbs from the Void, now with less saturated fat! I realize my updating schedule has been less-then-regular as of late. Now that the repulsion of the election results and the insanity of the holidays have fizzled to a degree — though I will still rage against the Drumpf administration with every fiber of my being — I promise to do my utmost to ensure you will have your bi-weekly fix of belligerent guidance through the agonizing world of writing. Starting… Now.

On this “dark and stormy night” I would like to offer a “word to the wise” to those of you writers with your “nose to the grindstone”. For those of you “in a jam”, “stuck in a rut”, or having difficulty “taking the bull by the horns” be sure to “keep your chin up” because “tomorrow is another day”. Not to “beat a dead horse” or “bang my head against a wall”, but “every cloud has its silver lining”. So, “pick yourself up by your bootstraps”, “keep your eye on the prize”, and —

On this “dark and stormy night” I would like to offer a “word to the wise” to those of you writers with your “nose to the grindstone”. For those of you “in a jam”, “stuck in a rut”, or having difficulty “taking the bull by the horns” be sure to “keep your chin up” because “tomorrow is another day”. Not to “beat a dead horse” or “bang my head against a wall”, but “every cloud has its silver lining”. So, “pick yourself up by your bootstraps”, “keep your eye on the prize”, and —

Fuck it. I am done.

Christ, I almost made myself vomit in my mouth. I believe I have made my point though. Clichés and derivative writing is the fucking Black Death to all scribes. At the very least they are the neon signs shouting from your pages that you are an amateur with all the nuance and creativity of a used condom. That is to say you finished the job, but there was absolutely nothing spectacular about the execution. Jackhammering away toward some perfunctory and maladroit climax is a surefire way to leave your reader unsatisfied every single time.

There are myriad ways in which cliché can breach the defenses of your work. Here I present a handful of flagrant violations to help begin your journey away from the path of least resistance.


Say, Say, Say

As demonstrated above, idioms or metaphors which have been banged into obsoleteness by every dickhead attempting to pass off borrowed thoughts as unique only serve to do the opposite. Phrases such as “back to the drawing board” or “not the sharpest tool in the shed” do not intimate a witty proclivity for the use of colloquialisms. Lacing your lines with such formulaic and uninspired diarrhea does little more than aptly showcase your sophomoric grasp on the essentials of writing.

This guideline goes double when it comes to dialogue! Never, and I do mean never have one of your characters regurgitate some puerile drivel along the lines of, “you’ll pay for this” or “get off of your high horse”. I can state unequivocally that there is absolutely no one in their right mind who would speak in such a manner.

This brings me to a caveat: There are a couple of occasions that come to mind where committing such heinous offences worthy of genital mutilation would be forgiven. For instance, say one of your characters traits/flaws is to communicate by frequently using trite or archaic sayings. This would be one of the few manifestations in which using clichés may work. Keep in mind if you are employing the use of platitudes to this end you must be consistent with their implementation and ensure that your readers are aware its deployment is intentional.

Otherwise you run the risk of being heaved upon the trash barge already teeming with chicken-shit wordsmiths.


Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

While I am on the subject of characters I believe it is important to point out the plethora of archetypes haphazardly and mindlessly embedded to fill certain — if not the main — roles. In literary fiction specifically one of the main clichéd characters that raises my Irish is the starving artist, continually failing but resolute in his/her goal to someday advance to the brass ring. Other such conventionally dreary and tedious fucking characters include (but are not limited to):

  • Brooding rebel
  • Bad boy/girl with a heart of gold
  • Reluctant hero
  • Girl next door/Plain Jane
  • Four-eyed computer geek
  • Mad scientist
  • Ugly duckling
  • Chosen one

With all of the flaccid prototypes in existence this list could continue indefinitely. The recurrence of these stereotypes may have you questioning their inclusion on a list of nettlesome writing trends. However, I ask you to consider how many of said two-dimensional, vapid dramatis personas have stayed with you long after you were finished reading? None would be the appropriate answer.

In reality people are complicated. Temperaments, mentalities, statures, reputations, etc. are eccentric and varied. There is not one individual defined by a singularity of being or particular aspect of their life. I would encourage you to evaluate those who inhabit your everyday life. The postal worker who suffers from agoraphobia yet has to make ends meet as a single parent of two young children. The janitor who was a well-known local sculptor in his home country, yet ventured to America in the search of gainful employment to support the failing health of his parents.

To craft a truly engrossing character you must put away the cookie-cutter and devise the recipe from scratch. Know each and every one of your characters rashes. Know where they hide their porn. Stock characters are pocket lint, ubiquitous and expendable. Yours should be closer to a fifty dollar bill found in an old pair of jeans.


Death by Genre

To expound circuitously upon this particular section at this juncture in the article would merely be throwing away the compass and wandering in the wasteland ad nauseum. A bottle of Evan Williams is clamoring for my attention and I am sure you and I both are interested in breaking the seal to flush out more of the details involving Der Führer’s newest scandal**. So for the sake of brevity I will close out by running down a few of the more dried up genre clichés which I believe the literary society should send out on an ice float at once. To be clear, I am saying dive into these shallow ends at your own peril.

Dystopian future – Sure, it worked for the Hunger Games and a handful of other successful series, but this is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors tactic. Drop the act. Cease and desist on using some ostentatious settings in hopes it will camouflage your shitty storytelling. At some point everyone will discover the man behind the curtain and the jig will be up.

Paranormal Romance – Twilight. That should be a sufficient explanation. If not, allow me to embellish by positing that these stories are fucking garbage. This is not writing, kids. It is sandpaper facial tissue for your mind. Split the difference and there is gold to be found in either genre. When combined the outcome is a dumpster fire.

Alien Invasion – This genre is in the same sinking boat as superheroes. These sorts of plot-based narratives tend to be short on character development and insightful commentary. If all you are seeking is to have Michael Bay spin your joint into some bullshit blockbuster then please feel free to disregard my advice… and inevitable skewering of your work.

The takeaway I aim to leave you with is this: there is only one crime more egregious than writing shit, and that is to write hackneyed, unoriginal shit. A turd with imagination can always be revised.

If you would like to hear me elaborate a bit more on my own process, you can find links to a couple of interviews conducted recently with me on my website at: https://alexschumacherart.com/about/. Drop me a line from the contact page if you have any other questions, complaints, or declarations of lust.

Bread Crumbs from the Void will return in two weeks with another thrilling edition of hard-nosed reality for you big-talkers and wannabes. Until next time, keep scribbling you freaks.

***The ruskies claim to have videos of the Toddler-In-Chief engaging in activities of a golden shower nature.


Profile 4Alex Schumacher has toiled away in the relative obscurity of minimum-wage jobs and underground comics longer than he cares to admit. Currently he produces the weekly feature Decades of (in)Experience for Antix Press, Bread Crumbs from the Void and The Fucking Funnies for Five 2 One Magazine, and Mr. Butterchips for Drunk Monkeys. Stalk him at http://alexschumacherart.com/.