Friday, September 28, 2007

Can't Live With 'Em--Can't Live Without 'Em

by Tom Schreck

Author of On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery

I’m gonna give this blog 110% Why—well, that’s just the kind of guy I am.

When I’m reading, I hate clichés with a passion.

Clichés are for the unimaginative writer.

Have you ever wondered why in every mystery every federal police official is white, middle-aged and rigid-- because it makes it easier for the writer. If the writer had to think of the federal bureaucrat as anything other than a boring, tight-assed prick it would take work.

What’s up with that cliché!

How about the hooker with the heart of gold? The autistic kid who is a mathematical genius? The dumb, philandering jock? The female protagonist who goes from one loser guy to the other?

By hook or by crook I want to stomp out clichés!

What about the crooked politician? The insincere and diabolical clergy? The apathetic teen? The slutty and stupid pop star?

Look I’m just tryin’ to keep it real—you know kick it raw, girlfriend. And say Later! for these clichés!

Wouldn’t it be more interesting if writers took characters and twisted them to make them different?

In On the Ropes I tried my best to dig down deep, go for the gusto and not be a slave to the cliché. In some cases I knocked it out of the park and in others well, what can I say—it wasn’t my day.

My main character is pro-boxer. Sure, he’s blue collar but he’s a blue collar social worker. He sometimes wins Rocky-style but more often than not he gets his ass kicked.

He’s got an old salty black guy for a trainer—nothing new there until we find out he’s independently wealthy and went to Dartmouth. (Not Harvard or Yale, that would be cliché.).

There’s the comic relief dog— again, no new ground there. The dog’s name is Allah-King and he flunked out of the Nation of Islam security force. He refuses to be called “Boy.” That might be a little different.

Of course, there’s a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black going on here too. I’ve got the tyrant for a boss, a stoic cop, and the buffoons who hang out at the bar. That’s pretty standard fare. There’s the Indian guy who talks funny (though he has Tourette’s Syndrome, which is a bit different.)

Nothing like livin’ in a glass house and throwin’ stones—you know what I’m sayin’!

Even the best writers get lazy. I even think some readers prefer the cliché because they’re comfortable with it. It’s why Law and Order, NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues will always be more popular than Monk.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this except to say when I write I give it my best shot, I keep on keeping on and I never say die until the fat lady sings and I try to remember that it’s not over until it’s over.

Dude, you know where I’m comin’ from?

It’s what giving 110% is all about.


Mark Terry said...

We always hope, don't we?

There are limitations on our shattering of cliches, though. Or is there?

One of the things I've noted with interest over the years is how, sometimes, the real world can destroy our cliches.

What, a soldier with a PhD? Quite a few of them, actually. Seems to me General Schwarzkopf had a PhD, although you'd have to verify that for me. And I've run into any number of cops with higher degrees.

My wife's cousin is not only a sheriff's deputy, but an RN. That came about because she intended to get out of law enforcement, went to nursing school, then discovered she'd have to take almost a 50% pay cut to leave law enforcement for nursing.

I hang out at Powerhouse Gym and I'm occasionally surprised to discover things about the people there. One guy who's all bulked up with tattoos up and down his arms and looks like a biker is the owner of several successful businesses--commercial real estate, a cement company and a couple others, as well.

And then there's that one guy who looks like a middle-aged thug, but is actually a novelist...

Mark Combes said...

Go deep or go home!

Paul Lamb said...

I don't know. I'll admit that such complex characters as you've identified do exist, but I think the real meat and potatoes of a mystery story lies in its normality. If recognizable characters commit the crime or solve the mystery, the reader will be more engaged with them. Evil done by just folks is more frightening that evil done by a complex and sinister bad guy. When your mom solves the mystery rather than the trained detective, the satisfaction is higher.

I don't object to colorful and complex characters in a story. They exist in the real world. But most people aren't like that (okay, most people are hugely complex when you take the time to look at them), and I worry that a story gets lost behind its characters sometimes.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

And I give 110% to enjoying your posts... and you never disappoint. I have your book right here on my desk. I plan on starting it after this weekend.

Julia Buckley said...


Don't let cliches get you down--remember, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and a pot of gold under your personal rainbow. :)

What I've found in my writing is that I don't find my own cliches--but luckily my writing group does, and they are merciless. Our leader used to say, "I've circled all of Julia's cliches, and I hope all of you did, too."

It makes for much embarrassment on meeting night, but it's better than getting nailed by a review that says, "Cliche-fest!"

DeesKnees said...

Perhaps there is a way to coin your own clichés. That way you could give 110% and start a whole new lexicon of usable material.

And then I can steal them. And somebody else can steal them from me.

Isn't that what clichés are in essence? Borrowed material...

At least Duffy doesn't drink Buttweiser. That would be pretty darn borrowed.