A Store Walking Down the Street

I recently came across this sentence in a novel: “It was the kind of store I loved to see walking down the street when I was a kid.” Whoooo. I’d like to see any kind of store walking down the street!

I was thinking about that particular gaffe while I was walking down the street today. I happened to see something that made me realize the sentence wasn’t totally ludicrous — a house rolling passed me. Okay, it was being towed, but still, it was moving along the street instead of being securely attached to a foundation.

Something else I saw: a henpecked rooster. Not a pretty sight! That poor thing was pecked raw by the hens. I will never again use the word henpecked, though to be honest, I’m not sure I ever did.

Many words outlive their usefulness and become meaningless clichés, such as pitch black. Does anyone today even know what pitch is? I had to look it up. It’s a black, sticky substance from the distillation of tar. What about hair the color of a raven’s wing. Have you ever seen a raven’s wing up close? Perhaps you saw a crow. I don’t know enough about birds to tell the difference, but I do know that comparing hair to a crow’s wing doesn’t portray the same poetic image. And why are writers still referring to the squeals of stuck pigs? Some clichés are of more recent standing, such as a stuffed briefcase. If you saw someone with a briefcase, how would you know how full it was?

Clichés, poorly constructed sentences, and unnecessary bits of exposition should be eliminated during the editing process. Today’s Daughter Am I blog tour stop includes a segment of Daughter Am I that remained in the book up until a week before publication. It’s not a bad excerpt, but it added nothing except a bit more history to a novel that already had a lot of history.

You can see the segment here: Dead Darling from Daughter Am I.

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Click here to read the first chapter of Daughter Am I.

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6 Responses to “A Store Walking Down the Street”

  1. cassandrajade Says:

    The sentence about the store is amusing, but I don’t know that I necessarily agree with your point about cliches. They are common frames of reference that can help sketch in a large picture very quickly and sometimes that is all they need to do. Even if someone doesn’t know what pitch is – though people who read historical or fantasy novels should have a reasonable idea – they know what pitch black means compared with just saying black. Certainly if everything is only described in trite cliches the novel will be trite, but sometimes they can save lengthy exposition that nobody particularly wants to read simply to explain something quite simple. Cliches stick around because they work, what matters is how they are being used.
    I really enjoyed reading the excerpt and it made me feel better about the editing process my first novel is currently undergoing. Losing bits of history that are interesting and entertaining but don’t add to the story was kind of heart breaking at first but I think the finished product will be worth it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Cassandra, You have a point about cliches. Perhaps they are shortcuts to a concept, and as such can serve a purpose. I know in talking and writing comments I resort to cliches, and I’m sure I do so in my novels. Using more than a few cliches, though, is a sign of a careless writer. They are hard to avoid. I never have been able to come up with good similes to describe black. It’s a tough one.

  2. Dave Ebright Says:

    I’m not a big fan of the cliche or simile as a writer or reader.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I read a book once that had a simile in almost every paragraph. About drove me nuts! If I use a simile, which I seldom do, I try to refer to something in the story itself, such as “her cheeks were almost as red as his car.” That’s a trite example, but it keeps the description within the confines of the story, as opposed to “her cheeks were as red as an apple,” which, besides being a cliche, takes one out of the story.

  3. joylene Says:

    Sometimes they can bring a smile to your face becuz you instantly go back to a simpler time. My dad used to say, “Off like a bride’s pyjamas.” I would laugh even tho I had no idea what it meant.

    I like “You’re as about appealing as a stool smear.”

    I still like “Inky Black”.

    Cliches may not have their place in writing, but in every day life, they never fail to make me smile.

  4. Sheila Deeth Says:

    I love the image of the store. My Mum taught in elementary school and loved to correct us when we made similar mistakes. Cliches have their uses, but changing countries makes you realize how badly they translate sometimes.

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