Kazuo Ishiguro On Clichés
Clichés are a writer’s sworn enemy.
They take up unneeded space, offer no originality and very little insight. But they’ve become clichés because everyone uses them, which makes it difficult for a writer to get out of that habit.
When it comes to clichés, I’m guilty as sin (Did you see what just happened there? The irony!) But I would expect more experienced, award-winning novelists to avoid clichés like the plague (Oh no. It happened again.)
Kazuo Ishiguro takes another approach. The author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go believes clichés can be “poignant and beautiful.”
I find phrases like ‘to be fair’ and ‘at the end of the day’ very deep. ‘At the end of the day,’ is full of stoic ruefulness. It’s very close to reflecting the human condition.
He added that obsessing over clichés can cause problems for writers:
I feel that for writers, an obsession with what is elegant or what is a cliché or not a cliché can become very inhibiting….When you write fiction but have to be prepared to adopt the language of everyone that you want to mimic. Prohibitions have behind them a kind of snobbery or fear of being seen as lower middle class.
Keep in mind that Ishiguro is talking strictly about fiction, and he makes an interesting point. If you’re portraying a certain group of people in your work, then you want to sound like that group of people, clichés and all.
But I don’t know that I agree with that last sentence, referencing the fear of being seen as lower class. I think certain clichés come about by people actually trying to appear haughty and more well-educated than they actually are, so they throw in a few words that make them sound smarter but don’t really say anything.
Think of unneeded fillers like “Furthermore,” “In regards to,” or “At your earliest convenience…” Maybe those instances or more of a wordiness issue, rather than a cliché issue, but I think they’re overused to the point of becoming cliché.
I like what Salvador Dali had to say on the subject: “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”
So can clichés serve a useful purpose in fiction writing? Do you agree with Ishiguro or Salvador Dali?
(Source: The Telegraph)
(Photo: Mariusz Kubik/Wikimedia)