Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Singing at the top of her lungs

Everything we learn about good writing says not to use cliches. I agree with that for the most part, although sometimes a writer goes to such lengths to avoid cliche that the writing calls too much attention to itself. Here are a couple of examples from Shantaram, a novel I've been trying to read:

Prabaker took the money and slipped it into his pocket with a movement as swift and fluid as the tentacle-grab of a squid.

Maybe if I was more familiar with the tentacles of squid, I'd get that.

I tried once more to find the words for the foliant blaze of her green eyes. I thought of leaves and opals and the warm shallows of islands seas.

From this, I get green. More importantly, I get a 936 page novel that's trying my patience as a reader. But certainly I've committed my own share of simile sins and metaphor mishaps.

My point is that once in a while, a cliche fits. Especially for a first person narrator, who sometimes thinks in cliche, like we all do. A cliche is also shorthand. It can stand for something. Or it can be so hackneyed that it's meaningless. This one, "singing at the top of her lungs," still works for me. To me, it evokes a fierceness, a bit of recklessness maybe. I associate it with singing in the car, letting loose. That's what my character does anyway, flying along the road, gravel scattering. Her singing, though, speaks for itself in the scene, I hope. I don't have to say she's trying not to let the bastards get her down, or that she's trying to keep her head above water.

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