Tag Archives: cliche

Writing tips: overused and interchanged words, and writing characters of colour

Words that have been used to death

The consistently useful WordWise blog has a list of words that have been overused by marketers and other writers to the point where they have lost all their original power.

As blog posts go, it’s a seamlessly integrated synergistic paradigm-shifting solution, leveraging a win-win proactive strategy for facilitating robust communications. Or rather, it’ll help you not sound like a hackneyed personal development coach every time you sit down at the keyboard.

Words that get interchanged incorrectly

Word Wise also has another post that lists words frequently yet improperly used in place of one another; ‘reluctant’ and ‘reticent’, for example.

I’m always secretly rather pleased that I usually know the right use for each word when I read a post like this, but every now and again I’ll discover an error I’ve been making for years. Which is one of the reasons I’m so fond of the online Chambers Dictionary reference page, which I can search from the Firefox search box … it’s saved me from more than one potentially embarrassing mistake in the past.

Writing characters of colour without being racist

While aimed at the fanfic community, this post offers great advice for anyone who wants to write about characters of a different ethnicity to their own, without falling into the trap of crass stereotyping. It’s also delivered with just the right mix of seriousness and humour:

You are probably wondering, “Good grief, this is a lot of work, and if I screw up, all I can do is lie down and get kicked in the head. Why on Earth should I write CoCs? I can just avoid the mess by only writing about white people!”

That thing where you are considering only writing about people of the same race as you is an exercise of white privilege. It is something that you are able to do because you are white.

I’ve not written enough fiction to have fallen into the trap of stereotyping coloured characters, or the even more insidious trap of never writing them at all for exactly that reason – all my characters so far have been equally cardboard, whatever their ethnicity. But having read the above post, I’m a little more confident about making the effort in future.

Two tests of writing quality

Personally, I have no problems with being objective about the quality of my fiction writing – it’s plain to see, even to its creator, that it’s bloody dreadful.

However, it’s a little more difficult for people further down the path of storywriting craftspersonship to assess their own work. A. R. Yngve suggests that you:

“1. Open one of your unpublished manuscripts on your computer.

2. Using the Search function, search and count the number of times the following phrases and words appear in your writing prose:

– “that will/would change your/his/her/their life/lives forever”
– “He/She loves me. He/She really loves me.”
– “heart will never heal”
– “as you know” (followed by exposition)
– “was all he/she had to live for”
– “love him/her forever”

If ANY of the above clichés appear in your prose, it ain’t good enough to be published.”

Brutal, but pretty fair.

Meanwhile, Jim van Pelt is working toward a more positive assessment method:

“My thoughts on this aren’t fully formulated, but I think there must be something right going on in a story that establishes a context for a line that would make no sense in any other context. What I mean is that a fully functioning story creates an environment for sentences that could only make sense within that story.”

He uses examples from movies, but that strikes me as a great way of drawing a line between works of science fiction that have truly absorbed the novums into the narrative and those that have merely used them as window-dressing.