Friday, June 10, 2011

Clichés–Are They Really That Bad?

Summer is the time for conferences and vacations. Time to use the longer days and time off for writing and editing.With so many writers doing serious editing right now or doing word count challenges and preparing for NaNo summer camp, I thought it would be good to offer a few craft articles.

Here's one from, Beth Hill, Fiction Editor.

Are clichés really that bad for your novels? The short answer is yes, they truly are. And a slew of clichés in a novel or short story is much worse than a single one that manages to get past your internal editor.

But because I’m not one for a short answer, I’ll expand and explain why clichés don’t add anything positive to your novel and why instead they detract from it.
Clichés are overused expressions that at one time might have been original. They can be used as shortcuts—she’s as cute as a button, I’ve painted myself into a corner, it’s as easy as pie—when we don’t want to make the effort of searching for a new description or finding that perfect verb. In speech, clichés are common; using them makes for quick communication.
But in novels, and even in shorter fiction, clichés serve to make the reading bland and stale. They are someone else’s words brought into a new plot. The cliché may not fit the character, the setting, the era, the social background of the story, or the genre.

Using clichés is like wearing someone else’s old and dirty clothes. They might have looked good at one time, but they don’t look good anymore. They don’t fit right and they don’t smell too good and they do nothing to improve your looks and bearing.
They. Don’t. Fit. Not as well as fresh words written for a particular story and specific characters would fit.
Instead of bland and lifeless, old and stale, you want to create phrases that are fresh and new and eye-catching and arresting. You want to draw readers deeper into your fiction by matching words and phrases to your characters and plot, phrases that no other story has. If you’ve used common phrases—phrases that fit any story—you know they don’t fit yours. Not the way new and exact phrases, crafted specifically for a particular story, would fit.
Puzzle pieces can’t be forced into a puzzle where they don’t belong, not if you want the puzzle to come out right. Words shouldn’t be forced into a story where they don’t fit.
Word choice is one of the strongest tools for making your story original. Unique. Why force inexact words into your writing? Why take the tired and common and mix them into your fresh passages? Why dump in bland when you’re trying to write something that stands out?
You could argue that a character speaks in clichés. And she might. There’s nothing wrong with giving quirks to a character. But all your characters won’t use clichés. And your omniscient narrator shouldn’t (unless you’re going after a certain effect).
Words carry a story’s flavor. Sprinkle yours with phrases that are sweet or spicy or bitter, not with old words that reek of rot and decay.
Don’t serve your readers tired words. They want vibrant phrases that mean something, not dull phrases that have lost their significance.
Go for bold and fresh rather than trite and sour. Use your words. Create new phrases, new similes and metaphors, that tighten your story threads. Use phrases to anchor your characters to your setting and plot.
Using clichés is like using someone else’s melody in your music or thinking someone else’s thoughts—their melody would be discordant inside yours; their thoughts wouldn’t help you get through your day.
Not only don’t clichés add to your writing, they can weaken it. Common phrases can turn off readers, they can keep you from weaving a tight story with no holes. Because they come to us so easily, we may write clichés without thought, without asking what those phrases add to the story and which direction they’re sending the plot.
Do clichés say exactly what you mean? Not often. And if you slave over your other words, why would you let less exacting words slip in to dilute your descriptions or dialogue or action?
Practice creating fresh phrases. Take clichés and change them—as cold as ice, as black as sin, he’s got a couple of screws loose, her head’s always in the clouds. Be creative. See what happens when you put your slant or personality on such phrases.
Then look at your own writing. Take out the common and put in something new, something that your character would think as he looks at the sky or at his wife or at his enemy. What kinds of words would he use, a man of his background, especially in the circumstances in which he finds himself?
Use words and phrases that reveal character that reveal motivation or intention. Use words that reflect your story’s genre and reveal your story’s theme.
Root out clichés and tired phrases from your manuscripts and then create your own phrases. Produce melodies in your words. Give your works a fresh and vibrant flavor, a flavor your readers will appreciate and savor and want to experience again and again.
For fun, a cliché-riddled blurb…
I had to reach the end of my rope before I could reach for the stars. I had to hope against hope that I’d soon see the light at the end of the tunnel. After all, what comes around goes around, and I’d spread it around pretty thick.
I wasn’t yet out of the woods or in the clear. But time was running out and I needed to wake up and smell the coffee. The mob wanted to see me six feet under, but I wasn't ready to buy the farm. Their enforcer had tried to eighty-six me, but he missed by a hair and now he’s eating crow. He’d come armed to the teeth, yet he’d bitten off more than he could chew with me. I had an ace in the hole—when Armand sent him after me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I was madder than a wet hen and fit to be tied. Ordering a hit on me got my dander up, and I saw red, so I fought back like a man possessed.
Nah, I’m not just another pretty face; I’m built like a tank. That enforcer discovered actions speak louder than words. When I clobbered him, with both of us sweatin’ like pigs, you could hear a pin drop. I laid down the law and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since.
So, life goes on. At least mine does. And while I’m reaching for those stars, my feet firmly tethered to the earth, I’m gonna roll with the punches, remember I’m in it for the long haul, and fly by the seat of my pants when I’m not dancing with the devil. I’ll be cool as a cucumber and as sweet as sugar unless someone gets my goat. And then I’ll turn over a new leaf.
Life’s too short to always be fighting against the tide; sometimes you gotta go with the flow. It’s not always win-win because you win some and you lose some, and besides, it’s not about winning, but how you play the game.
I've been laying it on thick, but this could be the start of something big, so I want to be ready for anything.
Better quit while I’m ahead. Besides, I've got other fish to fry.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Oh, brain! Oh, brain! Why have you deserted me?"

Please welcome back to Over Coffee, one of my favorite romance authors, Cheryl Brooks.

I've love visiting Cheryl's version of the galaxy. And those Zetithian's are hot. But more than sexy heroes, what won my heart for this series was her delightful secondary characters. I look forward to each book to see which hero will be showcased but also what fun new characters will show up. 

Wait until you meet, Kots, Waroun, and Quinn. Oh and, Threldigan, is an intriguing character who whets your appetite for more about who and what he is. If you haven't yet read any of her Star Cat Chronicles, you are missing out on a fun sexy series filled with exotic place, sexy heroes, adventures, battles and love. 

The Virgin does well as a stand alone and a great place to start.  Just sayin'. :-D

Cheryl's discussion is one I can certainly relate to. Enjoy.

There was a time when my brain never forgot a single thing. It could recall facts, figures, and bits of trivia in an instant. It could interpret 99% of all situations correctly. What it didn’t already know, it could easily absorb. Problem solving was its specialty. Given enough time, it would come up with the perfect solution all by itself. People used to borrow my brain when theirs got tired. But now that I’m working full-time, writing for two publishers, and trying to get a book ready to self-publish on Amazon, my trusty noggin has deserted me.

Granted, this desertion began at the time of life when most women’s memories decide to retire, but since it’s about ten years prior to the accepted retirement age and I need it more than ever before, the timing couldn’t be worse. At present, I’m using every spare moment to write and the things I used to do in my spare time have slowly been preempted. My garden is neglected. My horse herd has dwindled from five down to two, and neither of them have worn a saddle in years. I could probably figure out just how many years it’s been if I gave my sluggish mind enough time, but that would be too depressing. I still ride, but it’s a half hour lesson at a local stable once a week instead of the day long riding/grooming marathons at my own barn. My horses don’t complain, but on those days that I spend an hour or so brushing and clipping and spraying for flies, their appreciation is quite clear. They miss me.

But these are the things that happen to anyone who begins a second career later in life without relinquishing the first. True, I could have quit my nursing job when my first book, Slave, was published, but let’s face it: Romance writers do not enjoy the same kind of income that nurses do. At least, not in the beginning. With all the money some of my fellow authors are making by self-publishing on Kindle and other e-book formats, I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. But in order to jump on this bandwagon, I must work on three projects at once. I have thirteen unpublished manuscripts to play with, but now that my seventh book, Virgin, is about to be released, I find that I have grown as a writer. I can’t simply reformat those manuscripts, piece together some cover art, and throw them out there. They must be rewritten, polished, edited, and proofread. But for that, I need time and a clear head.

So, what else am I doing now that I never did before? I’m taking naps. I once read a humorous essay by a woman who wanted to know who that “old woman” was who had taken up residence in her house. The one who climbed stairs so slowly, the one who took naps in the afternoon, and whose bedtime coincided with that of her grandchildren. I’m here to tell you, that woman is me. Me, who used to walk briskly, could stay up all day and then work all night with no ill effects, and who seldom forgot anything. I could sure use her brain—and her body—right now. Wonder if she’d let me borrow them?

What about you? What changes have you seen in yourself as time goes by?


 He’s never met anyone who made him purr…

Starship pilot Dax never encountered a woman he wanted badly enough. Until he met Ava Karon…

 And he’ll never give his body without giving his heart… 
Dax is happy to take Ava back to her home planet, until he finds out she’s returning to an old boyfriend…

 As their journey together turns into a quest neither expected, Ava would give herself to Dax in a heartbeat. Except he doesn’t know the first thing about seducing a woman…Excerpt: you read the first chapter on Amazon 
My review of The Virgin

Cheryl Brooks is a critical care nurse by night and a romance writer by day. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America. She is the author of The Cat Star Chronicles series and lives with her husband, two sons, five cats, five horses and one dog in Indiana. For more information, please visit

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Winds Of Change: Self-Publishing

Isn’t amazing how things change, isn’t it?

In 2008, the new technology, Print On Demand, was becoming more readily available to not only small independent publishers but also individuals. There were those authors who had gone the self-publishing route, and may I add, with the prevailing attitude from their peers of lips curled. I knew many who had decided to publish their books as e-books. Attitudes were better but there were still those who sniffed and declared these authors weren’t “real” authors—as borne out by some writing associations and review sites.

On the sidelines, a close eye was kept on these bold and daring authors and small independent publishers and their failures and successes.

In 2009, e-books were on the rise and by early 2010 print books were fighting for equal footing in sales, as traditional publishers scrambled to make the new technology work for them.

Around this time some of the traditional publishers were starting to put out trade paperbacks of some of their authors and not just mass paperbacks. Business wise this makes perfect sense with digital printing, especially with exorbitant cost of returns. Trade paperbacks became more acceptable (which is funny when you consider trade paperbacks are the norm in other countries). While e-books had grown to a thriving business, and were beginning to level the playing field, trade paperbacks published with traditional publishers still had national exposure that self-published and some smaller independents didn’t.

What the traditional publishers had to their advantage—and still do—is distribution on a national level, in-house editors, cover artist, and active PR departments. Oh, and let’s not forget carrying the cost of the all-important, ISBN numbers and distribution through companies such as Ingrams (not cheap).

The latter part of 2010, we started to see the winds of change. Traditionally published authors opting to go the self-publishing route for many reasons; not the least is the ability to publish stories they know will be read even if their publishers initially shot down these books as too risky or not marketable. Another reason was allowing the authors greater profits on the e-books, longer shelf life, and basically, greater control over their work.

Having said that, these established authors have something debut authors don’t have, a name and a healthy readerbase. That’s not to say a debut author can’t build that, but for a debut author to think they can achieve the same results initially is comparing apples to oranges. Everyone has to start out on the ground level and build their business. Building a readerbase is no different.

Another thing to keep in mind is quality editing still has to be done, ditto on good cover art, because regardless if the book is electronic or paperback, we’re drawn to well designed covers. This means hiring an good people, epecially a good fiction editor as a new author, to assist so quality work is put out. Authors have to count the cost both in time and in outlay of money when considering self-publishing.

As authors, is POD technology (e-books and trade paperbacks) the way of the future? Of course. I said it back in the latter part of 2008 and it’s even more apparent now. How we get there is still being defined and refined. And it’s exciting to see. I admire those daring serious authors and independent publishers who were ahead of the pack. I have nothing but respect for those who are now forging ahead and breaking new ground.

  • What about you? Have considered it?
  • Or have you done it already? Be interesting to hear your opinions. 
  • What do you see as the pros and cons with regard to your work?