How to Perform a Clichéctomy – or – How Not To Write the Obvious

Don’t Write The Obvious!

don't write the obvious

Stating the Obvious. Photograph by macca.bsch.au.com

Over the weekend, my wife and I attended a family function in Florida. As we drove down Interstate 95, my wife asked, so what did you do this morning? (I was out of bed several hours before her.)

I told her, among other things, that I’d had my morning coffee, and I did some slush reading for Every Day Fiction.

“How did that go? She asked.

“Not so well,” I said. “I read five stories and four of the five had the same story-line. I don’t know why authors seem to have so much trouble coming up with ideas that are new and interesting. The stories are filled with cliché situations and predictable subject matter.”

“Like what?” She asked. (I could tell she was going into literary mode.)

“Well today, the four similar stories were about lost love. And two of the four took place in a coffee shop. And three of the four were primarily the MC‘s thoughts with little or no action, Two of the four also involved a dream sequence. And all four ended with the same outcome; the MC is forlorn over their lost love.

don't write the obvious

Photograph by perfectionlove99.blogspot.com

My wife raised her eyebrow; but didn’t say a word.

“I don’t get it!” I rambled on. “With so much to write about in this world, why do people keep writing about the same thing over and over.”

“Like what?” She stretched her bare feet out on the dashboard.

I thought quietly for a moment. “These are probably the top four repetitious stories that come through Every Day Fiction: lost love, a confession (to a counselor or psychiatrist), an alien invasion, or a story that ends up being a dream.”

“Maybe you should write an article on this for NovelNook?”

“And say what? Quit writing these stories. They’re old and repetitious, and boring!”

“People will never stop writing about subjects that appeal to their heart. Obviously, those subjects are very appealing. That’s why they’re in the minds of writers. Maybe you should write about the concept of approaching these subjects from a new angle? Keep the subject but remove the clichés. Wouldn’t you find that more appealing?”

“That’s interesting thought. What did you have in mind, oh wifey pooh, master of my mind?”

“This conversation reminds me of the story, “La lluvia y los hongos“, by Mario Benedetti. Do you remember that one? I read it to you once.”

Don't write the obvious

Mario Benedetti

“Wasn’t that, The Rain brings the Mushrooms?”

“Do you remember the story?”

“Refresh me please.”

“It’s a short story, and it incorporates two of your clichés; but the story is told in a very different way. So different, that you probably wouldn’t even realize that the subject is cliché.

The story starts with a man talking  to a one-night-stand about his friends. He’s just picked her up from a bar. Benedetti never comes right out and says it. But it’s intimated that they just had sex and are now having conversation in the bed afterwards. As the story unfolds, it sounds like he’s in a therapy session, like he’s confessing. In fact, if you found out at the end that he was with a psychiatrist, it wouldn’t surprise you at all. But that would be that ho-hum storyline you’re talking about.

So his monologue leads to one friend in particular, a woman, a woman he stole from another friend of his, and the woman became his lover. He talks about all the quirks this woman had that made her different, made her special. He tells how she wasn’t very elegant, or very book-smart, or the most beautiful, but she had a way about her, a way that commanded attention. People were drawn to her. She was everything that he wasn’t, and he loved that about her.

So, they became lovers. And after things became intimate, it began to unravel for him. All the perfection he had loved about her as a friend, he hated about her as a lover. He felt that she didn’t appreciate him, or need him. It made him feel like less of a man to be with her because she required very little from him and gave very little back.

In the final paragraphs of the story, the man confesses the rage that grew within him and his growing obsession with her perfection. He felt a need to put her in her place and when he just couldn’t stand it anymore, he killed her.

What’s really shocking in the end is that the woman who is currently with him (the one-night-stand) doesn’t even react to this news. And the man seems even less concerned  that he just shared that he is a murderer with a total stranger.

“Wow,” I said. “Great story. And you’re right! This is exactly what I’m talking about.”

The theme of lost love, and a confession, told in a unique way.

Putting Your Thought Process

Outside the Box Doesn’t Take that Long!

My wife, and I, brainstormed as we drove down Interstate 95 in Florida. In less than five minutes, we came up with several interesting ideas.

For some reason, the lost love theme often occurs in a coffee shop.

We decided for our story with a new thought process, everything would stay the same: the coffee shop, the forlorn memories, etc. But in the end, the MC would toss their payment on the table and leave with the thought, I’m glad that bitch is gone.

Our thought process lead us to an alternative outcome.

Then we talked about the confession story. In the slush pile this ALMOST ALWAYS occurs in an office of a therapist. So, what if the confession is the same but the listener is different; just like Benedetti’s story.

Alternative ideas, the MC confesses a murder to a: child? a dog? the wife of a friend? the pest control guy?

How would these alternatives affect the story? This is what my wife and I thought…

  • a child would react with innocence
  • a dog would not react, it wouldn’t care
  • the wife of a friend would react with shock or fear
  • the pest control guy might enjoy it, breaking up the monotony of his day

Just a little thought took our story to a completely different place.

All of us here at NovelNook.com hope that you’ll spend just a little extra time thinking about your next story. Reach deep down and search for a new angle for your story; one that will make it rise above the crowd; just like The Rain and the Mushrooms!

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

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It’s in the Details

A Moment of Self-Discovery

details-thinker

It’s in the Details

THE STORY

A fact about me that you may, or may not, know is that I am a professional photographer. About a week ago, I had an assignment that had me on my feet lugging seventy pounds of equipment for about seven hours. Needless to say, by the end of the day, I was exhausted.

Kent Photographer

Working on Hilton Head Island.

(THAT WAS THE EXPOSITION)

So, I arrived home tired and thirsty. I put on some shorts, my good Nike sneakers, and a T-shirt. I then grabbed two cervezas (beers for those that don’t speak Spanish) and I asked my wife to join me at the beach. We sat on the sand and watched the waves for about thirty minutes before returning home.

Ocean View

Image by Kent DuFault

All that probably seems pretty ordinary, and you’re wondering, what does this have to do with writing?

An Epiphany

Epiphany

Something in my brain clicked.

The next day, I was outside, staring up at the sky thinking. (This is something that I do quite often.) My mind wandered back to our beach visit the previous evening. As I thought about what happened in those thirty minutes, I had an epiphany.

A writing epiphany- if you will.

This is what I didn’t tell you about our couple’s moment at the beach. It was cold, windy, and the sea spray had turned  the sand into a sticky mess. Once we arrived, my wife and I barely spoke. She sat huddled in a hooded sweatshirt; her face barely visible. It was so cold that my bald head was noticeably uncomfortable. The cold beer was hard to hold on to with exposed fingers. I set it down between my legs and sand became stuck to the bottle. The sand eventually made its way into my mouth. I also scolded myself for putting on my good Nike shoes. Sand had filtering down into them. Uncomfortable, I tried to knock the sand from all of my exposed flesh. I drank my beer fast to end the moment. When, I asked my wife if she wanted to go back to the house, she was standing up before I finished my sentence.

And THIS was my revelation – IT”S IN THE DETAILS
revelation

By Edrooseo

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was a short story writer. I have not written a novel. I also told you that my wife says that I’m scared of writing a novel. But that isn’t how I see myself. I see my writing as painting with broad strokes, lacking in definition, but a beautiful and clearly defined “whole” in the end product. But my wife, (who is my greatest confidant, and editor) says that I can’t get to novel length because I don’t include enough detail. I never really understood that line of thinking until I relived our moment on the beach.

It occurred to me, that if I had written that beach scene prior to my epiphany, (and a lot of other writers would write it this way as well. My slush reading gives testament to that), it probably would have read something like this;

The couple sat in silence on the beach, sipping their beers, and staring at the waves. The cold wind whipped around them. She pulled her coat tight to warm herself. He looked at her. Noticing her discomfort, he pulled her close. After a few moments, he guzzled his beer, and then asked her if she wanted to return to the house; which they promptly did.

Now there is nothing wrong with this version. It tells the scene, it covers what happened, and it does that in a succinct fashion that is perfect for a short story or flash fiction. (In fact, I’ll admit something to you. When my wife read this article, and she reads everything I write before it goes public, she said she preferred the short version)

Post-Epiphany

Now, In an effort to expand on my details, I would write it something more like this.

Their laughter subsided when they plopped down into the wet sand. His wife pulled her coat tight, burying her face into the hood. He looked at her and saw nothing but the tip of her nose; it was turning red.

Jeez it’s cold, he thought.

The wind whipped ruthlessly, nipping at his ears, the dank odor of dead fish drifted by.  He had nothing with which  to protect himself, so he placed a hand on top of his bald head. It felt like ice.

The two of them stared at the waves, struggling to enjoy the moment while sipping their beers.

He crossed his legs and nuzzled his beer in-between his thighs to give his chilled fingers a break. The bottle slipped sideways and became coated with grit. Anger slipped into his eyes, before he bit his lip to force back a curse.

This sucks, he thought. All day I was thinking about doing this, and I’m freezing. I can’t even think.

She remained silent, seemingly unaware of his troubles. She stared at the gray seas and grounded birds. He knocked some sand from his bottle, and it stuck to his leg. He took a big swallow. Grit wedged into his teeth. He gagged while spitting it out.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Sand got in my mouth; from the bottle.”

“Oh,” she replied.

The man looked left and right. They were the only two out on the beach other than several joggers.

She shivered, and thought, those idiots are out here no matter what, even in a hurricane.

One jogger wearing Nike’s passed within a few feet of them, it caused the man to glance at his own shoes. His heart sank. Clumps of sand lay along the top; between the shoes and his socks. They looked like mushrooms sprouting. Instantly, he realized that sand had gotten inside his shoes, his good shoes; ruining them forever.

He sighed. Anyone who ever lived at the beach knows once the sand gets in- it never goes away.

Enough is enough.

He drained his beer in a single gulp.

“It’s cold. You want to go back?”

“I can’t believe it took you this long to ask.”

He stood, reached down, and pulled her to her feet.

“Hug me tight,” she said, and they scurried up the walk to their condo.

Ta Da!!!!

We now have the same scene but it incorporates little details that touch the senses of the reader and builds up the word count.

My Point

My point to you, today, is to engage the senses. Think about those little things that might happen. The out of the ordinary things. Too many emerging writers tell us about the color of someone’s hair, or their eyes, or other simple facts that are broad (and common) strokes. Tell us about the grit in someone’s teeth.

I know that from now on, I’m going to live my scenes in my head. I’m going to take in every little nuance of what might be happening. I’m going to notice the grit, the stench, the pleasant (or the unpleasant) feeling of the moment. And, I’m going to incorporate those details to the best of my ability.

And, you should too!

Who knows, maybe I’m ready for that novel!

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, 3024AD, by DES Richard and edited by Corissa Poley

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

Bellakentuky