Saturday, June 29, 2013

WIFYR Recap #3: Children's Writing Cliches to Avoid

I'm guilty. If you're not sure you are, do a manuscript search. See how many times your characters roll their eyes, get various pains in their stomachs, have pounding hearts, or breathe deeply. I, for one, know my characters should have asthma to justify all the times I call attention to their lungs.

In Martine Leavitt's workshop at WIFYR, she talked about cliches. Any description of emotion that refers to internal organs--lungs included--is cliche. She says even vomiting is hard to do without sounding trite.

I've sometimes gone to absurd lengths to describe fear, sadness, or grief in a more original way, only to sound a little weird. "Her heart line-danced in her chest" or "His stomach mooed" may not be much of an improvement over pounding hearts or growling stomachs.

Martine suggested that instead of looking for new variations on old cliches, we try metaphor. One caveat: metaphors should be used sparingly, and should feel natural rather than superimposed on the scene.

In TOM FINDER, Martine Leavitt used gravity as a metaphor. In HECK SUPERHERO, she used quantum physics.We can find what works in our manuscripts by looking for patterns. She said our inner creative genius may come up in the repetition. To see it, we  must read our work over and over, looking carefully.

Martine spoke of the book, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURINA TATE, and how the author spends pages describing how Calpurnia's mother, in her layers of long clothing, suffers from the heat. By contrast, Calpurnia sets off to discover a new species. In making this comparison, the author effectively shows how Calpurnia is destined to become a different species of woman.

She suggested when we're tempted to use a cliche, we instead have the character pause for a beat, then use objects specific to character and setting to describe the emotion. I took ten pages of a story I'm beginning, and was surprised to learn she liked the part where the character is upset with her father at breakfast. Instead of saying how angry she is, my mc looks down at her plate (the specific object) and says, "I hate poached eggs. It looks like a giant eyeball."

 As Martine Leavitt said, a good metaphor surprises with the unlikeness of things compared, while at the same time making reader marvel at how it fits.

My challenge for all of us is to look for the patterns already in our writing, and deepen them into relevant metaphors. Don't you love the idea of making a reader marvel?


stephi k said...

Thanks for posting these ideas!

Becca said...

Thanks! I'm looking forward to our group writing sprints. I've got to get going!

Alice said...

I'm guilty of that too. Dang, the more I learn about writing the more I find can't use certain words or ways of saying things. Pretty soon there'll be nothing left to write!