After spending the day with our friends in North London last Saturday, we returned home to a NOISE, a loud buzzing noise, emanating from the freezer. Everything inside seemed to be still frozen… but not for long. By Sunday morning, all the food in there was frosted like my windscreen early on a February morning and by the evening it had gone mushy. Our dear neighbour (thank you, Helen) having offered board and lodging in her freezer to one-and-only-husband’s meat supply, we are now eating our way through the rest. These things always happen on Bank Holidays. Is that a cliche or a truism? Imo it’s a truism, but it leads me neatly into this week’s topic.
Every writing expert will tell you to avoid cliches, phrase cliches like to think is to act. Of course, that’s right, but don’t you get fed up with the other sorts of cliches? I mean, characterisation cliches.
On sex and puberty…
- She was thrilled to be the first girl in her class to wear a bra. (Really? Most girls are deeply embarrassed about breast development.)
- On having sex for the first time. “Phew! Glad that’s over!” (Have you ever heard any real person express this point of view? For most young people, the whole thing is much more complex.)
- Churchgoers are always stuffy and hypocritical.
- Roman Catholic priests are always Irish.
- Anglican vicars are always male, even though we’ve had female priests in Church of England since 1994.
- Young women like shooooes, and shoppinggggg and chocolatttttte.
- Men always leave the loo-seat up.
- Teenagers sound like Harry Enfield’s Kevin.
- Teenagers/ children can use a computer better than any older person. (Really? I used to teach sixteen year olds, Dear Reader.)
On nationality (and regionality – is this a word?)…
- French wear striped t-shirts, berets and ride bicycles with strings of onions around their necks.
- Germans are spotlessly clean and ruthlessly efficient.
- Italians wear too-tight jeans and are sentimental about children and their mothers.
- Americans shout and come out with stupid statements like “I love history. It’s so old.” (Conversely, the Americans write we Brits as all having bad teeth and speaking like something out of a 1930s film.)
- All farmers have West Country accents.
On successful women…
- If they can somehow tear themselves away from their board meetings and attend school sports day, all their parenting duties have been discharged.
- These women are too grand to do housework. The dirtier their house, the better they are… at work, as lovers and as parents.
- Similarly, when required to donate to school bring-and-buys, they ‘distress’ cakes bought from the supermarket to make them look homemade.
Using these sorts of cliche shows both laziness and that the writer isn’t properly into his/her characters. At its worst, it’s stereotyping and, just this week, we’ve seen how people’s perception of football fans – at that time – as hooligans, drunks and thugs led us to believe lies that were told to us by police and others. The problem was, in the late 1980s, football hooliganism was a big problem, especially in the UK, but we, the general public, indulged ourselves by extending from the particular to the general.
In her blog A Writer of History, I see that M K Tod is currently spending three weeks in Paris researching, for her next book, how things were in that city in the 1870s. That’s proper research which will, I’m sure, generate authentic characters.
While I’ve been typing this, I’ve just heard that another cliche has been… er… outFoxed, the one about Leicester City never winning anything. Well done that, City of my birth, supported not just by myself but my father and grandfather before me. We are the champions.
It’s all getting too much. I’ll have to go and eat something more from the freezer…