My first thought was to name this post “Avoid Cliches Like the Plague,” but I hadn’t come up with that idea, and in English circles, that’s almost become a cliche in itself. (As a side note, with or without the accent is acceptable, and I’m too lazy to figure out how to add the accent here).
As a result of trying to not use the easy out that was thought up by someone else, for that is what cliches are, I sat here for about ten minutes trying to decide what I really wanted to avoid.
Grading essays is always a favorite thing of mine to avoid, but most people haven’t had that experience, so it wouldn’t have the same impact. I thought about rush hour in L.A.; I haven’t driven in that myself, but I’ve seen it on TV and I’ve driven in rush hour in Dallas/Fort Worth, so that might have worked okay- most people can at least imagine what that would be like.
But, I wanted something a little more universal. After all, imagining the horror of rush hour is not the same as having a memory of being stuck in freeway traffic with barriers on both sides, knowing that the next exit will take at least 30 minutes to reach in this traffic, even though it would only take one minute to walk to it, all while really, really having to pee.
That is the kind of experiential memory we want to illicit with our writing, so people can easily relate to our characters and story. So while many of us may have never driven in a big town, I’d guess most of us have had a “friend” or neighbor or someone that we want to hide from when we see her coming, because we know she’ll be over for hours, even if we say outright that we have to, ahem, grade essays, or cook dinner, or go to an appointment that is in five minutes. Without being really, really rude and hurtful, we can’t get through to that person that it is time for her to go.
So, even though it took longer to come up with it, it is a better choice to use my own version or description of my experience rather than use someone else’s idea. If I had said, “Avoid like the plague,” you would have known what I meant, of course, but you wouldn’t have thought much about it. Because you’ve heard the phrase so often, you don’t think about its original meaning, and let’s be honest, you haven’t lived through a plague anyway, so it just doesn’t have the weight it should.
But, you likely have lived through some version of Ms. Doesn’t Get It, and because you haven’t heard her used in such an expression, you likely (hopefully) got a chuckle out of it or at least thought back to your experience with that version of Ms. Doesn’t Get It from your life. Which, in turn, makes you get the gut-wrenching fear that you should feel when using cliches!