I met G.P. Gottlieb a year ago at the aborted Left Coast Crime conference. For a conference that barely lasted a day, I got so much out of it, including making friends with Ms. Gottlieb. She is easily one of the nicest women I’ve ever met and I enjoy her Whipped and Sipped Series, which starts with Battered. Her latest is Smothered.
Dear Fellow Mystery Authors,
Let’s touch base. Some writers have picked up a lot of clichés over the course of time, and I don’t want you to have to read between the lines here – but it’s starting to push me over the edge.
We are literally repeating the same phrases over and over, if you know what I mean, so that a person cannot read a single cozy mystery without running across a cake or a cup of coffee that has been made exquisitely, flawlessly, impeccably, faultlessly, or to perfection. Does nobody sip a cup of weak and tasteless coffee anymore? Are all cakes sublime, delightful, and magnificent? Every time I see the word ‘mouthfeel,’ I want to take a bottle of wine and pour it over someone’s head. Listen, nothing ever falls off the readers’ radar, you know? I get it – we all have too much on our plates. Geez, I know I’m just doing the best I can.
Let’s face it, I know how it is – at the end of the day, we all want our writing to appear effortless. We’d like our readers to get a bang for their bucks, of course, but let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Some of us, and full disclosure, I’m guilty too, repeat cliches that we’ve heard a few hundred times too often. I’m not saying you have to avoid them like the plague, but come on, everyone, let’s take the bull by the horns!
Let’s circle back to why it’s a problem to use well-worn, sometimes much-loved phrases. First, we shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we attempt to tell a story, am I right? Some clichés just so perfectly convey exactly what we’re trying to say, you know? You sit down at your laptop, or with a fresh legal pad, and you want to hit the ground running – it should not be like herding cats. The words should flow from your mind as if you’re simply connecting the dots. You can certainly massage things during the editing process, but the last thing any of us needs is to discover that there’s no there, there.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t always have the bandwidth to worry about this stuff. I like to think that I always use original language and that jargon is not in my wheelhouse. I’m just saying that some readers expect a higher standard of writing. Feel free to take my suggestions with a grain of salt, dear fellow authors, but too many of us grab at low-hanging fruit.
I mean, you can argue with me until the cows come home, but you’re not going to convince me that cliches will improve your writing. Nobody will tell you that it is easy as pie to consistently come up with new and original ways to express yourself. Ultimately, we each have to find a way to overcome the cliche problem, because, at the end of the day, it’s the writing the counts, right?