Avoiding Cliches Like the Plague

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a cliché is (a) a hackneyed phrase or opinion or (b) a very predictable or unoriginal thing or person. I used to have a dictionary of clichés, I think also published by Oxford. The precise purpose of such a reference source eluded me. Perhaps it was so people could check they were not using clichés in their writing or speech.

Because, of course, we must avoid using clichés. In this post I’m not so much concerned with the first definition above. We all recognise these things for what they are pretty quickly:

Not in a million years…

For all intents and purposes…

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks…

As heavy as lead…

Millions of these things are espoused daily and eliminating them isn’t too hard with a careful edit. But today I want to discuss the other definition, which is far more insidious in writing and film. The situational cliché. The story that goes along predictable lines and ends the same way lots of other stories have in the past.

There are lots of these too. I mentioned one years ago when I reviewed a film, Hansel and Gretel. There it was what I called the “too cool to look” hero walk. You know the one. The hero has just beaten the bad guy and lit the fuse for an explosion. As the bomb detonates in the background the hero is seen walking towards the camera, dead-pan expression on his face or maybe lighting a cigarette, not bothering to glance over his shoulder as the explosion blows the final shreds of the villain away. It’s meant to show that the hero is ultra-cool, so cool in fact he can ignore an event that would have everyone else ducking for cover or at least turning around to look at*. So cool he doesn’t need to run.

It’s been done a lot. It’s a cliché. It’s the sort of thing writers need to avoid.

I myself had a recent problem with a cliché ending to a series I’m writing at the moment. My cliché was “the hero sacrifices herself to save the world but isn’t really dead and comes back when everyone least expects it and manages to destroy the bad guy…” I wanted to avoid it and it took a while to do so.

The Star Trek film franchise did this a lot. In The Wrath of Khan Spock is killedHe’s back in the next movie, not really being dead at all of course…well, sort of but not really. Even the Enterprise has been destroyed a number of times but there is always a new one just being completed the crew can transfer to. Handy, that.

There are book series out there that have cliché endings. Lots of them. The Harry Potter series for instance. Harry gets killed and brought back to life because he’s not really dead…well, he is, but not really. In his book Destiny Unfulfilled: A Critique of the Harry Potter Series, Jim Adam states that J. K. Rowling uses the cliché of the Christ-like sacrifice to save mankind (or in her case Wizard-kind). The hero needs to die, to sacrifice his or her own life, in order to save the lives of others.

That’s been done too.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the Christ-like sacrifice, except that it’s been done. A lot.

And this was the problem I had. It took a while to solve it, required me to consult with my editor, and is going to necessitate a heavy re-write of the last part of my final book in the series, but at least I am happier with the ending.

Cliché is an easy trap to fall into. Movies, especially the plethora of prequels and sequels they engender, are full of them. Books, too. A good writer should be careful to spot them as they arise and deal with them before it’s too late.

Damn! Before it’s too late… A cliché!

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* It always strikes me as a bit weird: surely the only person not looking at the explosion is the one who set it off. Think about it. The villain blows something up and the police don’t know who to arrest. Try arresting the only person in the street NOT looking at the explosion!

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

The OneStop Apocalypse Shop

Did you ever want to help produce a movie? Well,  now you can. Permuted Pictures are running a Kickstarter campaign for their first movie , The OneStop Apocalypse Shop. A worthy cause. So today’s post is a guest blog with author Derek J. Goodman…

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Hi, my name is Derek J. Goodman, and I would like to talk about the Kickstarter for the movie The OneStop Apocalypse Shop, based on my novel The Apocalypse Shift.

The one thing I get asked the most about the novel is if I, like the characters, have ever worked the graveyard shift at a convenience store. The answer is yes, I did indeed work for a year doing the night shift at a 7-11 in a seedy section of Denver. It is, without a doubt, the worst job I’ve ever had. I could tell you stories. But after a certain amount of time passed, I found myself actually growing nostalgic about it. Not because I actually wanted to go back and do it again, but because, unlike most of my jobs since, it was interesting. The idea occurred to me that if vampires, werewolves, and zombies had walked through that door, it wouldn’t have changed anything. That job would have been equally as crazy.

And so I came up with stories of the OneStop and the poor schmucks who worked there. The OneStop was in a special section of the city that tends to attract magical forces once the sun goes down. Most of the monsters that walk through the door are just minding their business like any other customer. They want Twinkies, nachos, doughnuts, Slim Jims, and Froztees. But every so often some mad power-hungry demon might come in for a quick bite on their way to destroying the world. The crew at the OneStop need to stop them. It’s part of their job, right up there with mopping the floor, keeping the coffee pots full, and ringing up the customers.

The Kickstarter is being run by my publisher, Permuted Press, who happen to have several really talented film students among their staff. The script will be by Ryne Driscoll and it will be directed by David Walker. I recently had the opportunity to talk to them in person and I’m confident that the project is in good hands. This is all around a great opportunity and I’m happy to be a part of it.

For further information about the Kickstarter and how to donate to it, you can  click here. I really hope that other people will be as excited about this as I am.

-Derek J. Goodman

And from Michael L. Wilson, President of Permuted Press, we have the following:

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I’m assuming that you know who Permuted Press is, given that you probably landed on this page as the result of a Facebook post that we, or perhaps a friend of yours, shared in your news feed. One of yesterday’s Kickstarter supporters for the OneStop Apocalypse Shop film pointed out that we may not have made it very clear what Permuted Pictures is all about. So on a chilly Sunday Tennessee evening as I sit at my kitchen table eating a bowl of Fruit Loops, feeling like a barbarian because I just had to hand-wash a cereal bowl because the dishwasher is broken, I’ve decided to take a moment to share a bit more about our little pet project.

(Yeah, I’m a little sore about the busted dishwasher.)

Several people that make up the Permuted Press staff are film school graduates. I’ve seen their student films and even acted in a few. They’ve done some pretty respectable little productions on a shoestring budget. One day it came up in conversation, “We should do a Permuted Press film.” It seemed like a goof at the time, but the thought sat with me. I began doing some research and realized that if we chose the right script that could be filmed inexpensively enough, we could probably take a weekend or two and have some fun by making an ultra-campy horror flick and have some fun posting it online. I bounced it off the team, and before long, they were in.

When I mentioned the idea in passing to Permuted’s owners, they suggested we think bigger. Rather than try to bootstrap the film by saving our milk money, they challenged us to aim higher and go for a more professional production by doing a Kickstarter campaign to finance the project. We were even encouraged to move forward by some friends in the “real” film industry who have offered to advise us on things like production, casting and distribution.

Around the same time the idea for doing an indie Permuted film began to take shape, we received a novel pitch from Derek Goodman for a series he’s writing called The Apocalypse Shift. The elevator pitch for the series called it “Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That quick comparison closed the deal. We knew we had to make this movie! The entire idea was just too much fun to pass up.

What we’re doing with Permuted Pictures in no way compares to what our film agents are doing in Hollywood. Those guys continue to pitch our books to the big studios. Permuted Pictures isn’t the answer for all of Permuted Press’s authors to have their books made into film. It’s really just a grand experiment. If it goes well, we’ll hopefully do more. There are some amazing stories in the Permuted Press catalog that would make great, inexpensive grassroots film projects.

We know that in order for this campaign to be successful, it will require authors to use their author platforms to solicit support for the film. A lot of people will need to decide to get onboard with the idea and pull together to help make the whole effort doable on even the smallest scale.

At the end of the day, we realize that our job isn’t to make movies. It’s to sell books. So the whole film thing is something we’re committed to work on primarily over lunch, evenings and weekends. But it’s still fun, and we think it’ll be fun to watch, too.

If you’re an author, an indie film fan, a horror enthusiast or just want to be part of helping an eager young group of film school graduates hone their craft, we’d deeply appreciate it if you’d spread the word about Permuted Pictures and The OneStop Apocalypse Shop. If you can pitch in a few bucks, we appreciate that, too. Sharing our Kickstarter updates during the coming month will also go a long way in making the campaign a success.

Now my Fruit Loops are soggy and the dishwasher is still broken. When does the glamour of being the President of an indie film studio kick in?

– Michael L. Wilson, President, Permuted Press