Thursday, January 1, 2009

Queen of Cliche

A few weeks ago I was blessed to be able to have a paragraph of my wip critiqued by an author. One of the things that stood out in the author's critique was my use of cliche metaphors.

Ouch.

I pondered it awhile, for a few hours even feeling like the Queen of Cliche. Not only do I use cliche metaphors but I've realized that some of my plots are cliche. And my characters...

So I admit to sulking a little. :-)

Then, with the help of a writer buddy, I picked myself up and examined the situation.

A long, long time ago I took a creative writing class. It was one of the best things I've ever done. The teacher loves poetry so that is what our studies focused on. Poetry is an incredible tool for teaching noncliche writing. Mrs. Robison encouraged us to use metaphors and words in new and fresh ways. Because of that class I learned to describe images with different kinds of verbs, to examine a scene and paint it for the reader.

Perhaps I forgot these lessons while immersed in my wip, but now I've remembered. Below is a poem by Ted Kooser, thirteenth poet laureate of the United States.

Study the way he uses verbs and metaphors. One metaphor in particular always catches my eye. Can you guess which?

January 19
Still thawing, breezy
Arthritic and weak, my old dog Hattie
stumbles behind me over the snow.
When I stop, she stops, tipped to one side
like a folding table with one of the legs
not snapped in place. Head bowed, one ear
turned down to the earth as if she
could hear it turning, she is losing the trail
at the end of her fourteenth year.
Now she must follow. Once she could catch
a season running and shake it by the neck
till the leaves fell off, but now they get away,
flashing their tails, as they bound off
over the hill. Maybe she doesn't see them
out of those clouded, wet brown eyes,
maybe she no longer cares. I thought
for a while last summer that I might die
before my dogs, but it seems I was wrong.
She wobbles a little way ahead of me now,
barking her sharp small bark,
then stops and trembles, excited, on point
at the spot that leads out of the world.
Ted Kooser

21 comments:

Kristen Painter said...

That's a great poem. Sad, yet not completely.

I'm guessing the seasons like rabbits is your favorite? I started out in poetry (it's my first published genre) and often thought it would be where I ended up.

Inspire said...

Each lesson learned, is a stepping stone to becoming a better writer. I admire you for being so teachable. It shows you have the desire to be the best writer you can be. It will get you published. It saddens me when a writer tells me they will not change one jot or tittle of their writing. Those are the ones that eventually give up.

Someone asked me yesterday if when I received the editorial comments from my publisher, did I cringe, did I fight them on making changes. I told her that I had been preparing myself for several months for the arrival of the macro edits with the attitude that my editor is an expert in her field, and that these changes will only polish the manuscript and make it even better.

Keep at it, Jessica.

Jessica said...

Hey Kristen,
Yep, the seasons part is definitely my favorite. :-) That's really neat how you started out in poetry. I'm clueless with it, though I enjoyed the class.
Maybe you'll still end up with poetry somehow. You never know...
:-)

Jessica said...

Thanks Rita! I agree with you that there are people (editors, agents, authors) that just know more than me. Being taught by them is an honor.
Thanks for stopping by! Did you finish your edits now?

Tina M. Russo said...

One of the nice things that have happened from selling short stories is learning to take editorial feedback. Since I am mercenary, I don't have a problem with making changes. I just want to sell!!

Janna Qualman said...

It's great you were able to reassess where you are and, then, pull yourself from the doldrums. That's so huge for writers!

And thanks for sharing the poem. I've not seen that one before. :)

anita said...

Lovely poem, Jessie! And great post, as always. :-) I remember when you got that critique. I think you've lost your crown as queen, BTW ... since you're willing to better yourself and learn to overcome that pitfall.

I was going to assume that the seasons as rabbits was your favorite metaphor, too. If for no other reason than the other one (about the dog as the table) is an analogy with the use of "like" in the phrasing. But both of them were excellent comparisons and imagery tools used by the writer. As you know, I LOVE poetry, so this was a real treat for me!

Have a wonderful New Year's Day!!

Jessica said...

LOL Tina. I'm with you. Bring on the changes!

anita said...

Oops. I meant to say it was a simile, because of "like". They are both analogies, snort. Can you tell I just woke up? Anyway, I was wondering if you specifically used the word "metaphor" as a hint for us? It was very sneaky. :-)

Jessica said...

Hi Janna,
I'm pretty sure it's an older poem. Yeah, I'm constantly pulling myself from the doldrums. LOL

Jessica said...

Haha,
Anita, I was just about to post how embarrassed I am to have thought it was a metaphor. I didn't even think of the analogy thing. Anyhow, yes, it's a simile but did you know similes are also metaphors? Or something like that...
Hmmm.
I'm jealous that you just woke up. What a life. LOL
So I can't be queen anymore? Don't worry, something else will come up. Snicker.
Yep, I knew you loved poetry. I checked out that link on your blog a few weeks ago to the narrative/story poetry. It was interesting.

Keli Gwyn said...

I enjoyed your post--and the reminder to avoid overused devices in our writing.

I liked the card table simile. I have just such a table with one leg that doesn't click into place anymore, but I never thought of comparing it to an old dog with a bum leg. Clever. Thanks for sharing the poem.

Jessica said...

That was clever. I guess it's why he's poet laureate. LOL
Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I grew up on cliches. In fact, I think my family invented a few of them. LOL! When I write, it's an area that requires attention.

The poem paints a vivid picture. I'd like to read more of his stuff.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Irritable Mother said...

It's always hard to receive criticism, even when it's constructive and right. Good for you for accepting it and striving to learn more!

Jessica said...

Hi Susan,
I agree that it's an excellent poem. He should have stuff out there to read, probably in the library. I hope you're feeling better.

Jessica said...

Well Karen,
If you heard my first grumbles, you might not say that. LOL But yes, now I'm trying to be teachable in an optimistic way. :-)
Thanks for stopping by!

Danica/Dream said...

Wow, that's really interesting...

I think we have to be teachable as writers. I don't think anyone has all the answers so there's always something we can learn. Of course, I'm also a terrible perfectionist, so I'm always trying to make it better.

Jessica said...

Hey Danica,
I'm a perfectionist too so I tend to take critiques too seriously. I have to learn to filter others advice through what I think is best, instead of assuming it's all gold.
Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Cheryl Barker said...

What a great blessing to have writing buddies to help keep us encouraged. All the best to you in this New Year, Jessica!

Jessica said...

Yes, writing buddies has been one of the biggest blessings of this journey!
Best to you also! :-)