I’m very familiar with verbal cliches. I find writing that incorporates a lot of them to be like eating old dried out cakes that have long lost their flavour. Typical examples would be:
“[He] put his lips on her neck. she thought: “Other lips have been there. God, I am in a cage!””
“His eyes roamed across her bosom, as well as his inquiring fingers.”
“If we all pull together as one man, we’ll discover the answer and then we’ll know everything!”
“He needs to step up to the plate…….
and get his ducks in a row”
Good fresh writing, like good fresh bread, has lots of interesting little chewy bits, rich flavours and enticing aromas that you can savour. It can be clean and simple and pure like the best water or lettuce or apples, or it can be quite flowery! Here are some examples…
“Her mind felt like a mirror: everything in it came from somewhere else”. (Mark Salzman)
“The silence in the room came alive, like the positive space in a Chinese landscape painting or the words left out of a poem. ” (Mark Salzman)
“It is a drastically interesting country, America is, and you are lucky to get away without regret, loss of tin, or the Spanish clap”. (Sebastian Barry)
“The sun lay in a shaft on the window seat and along the old flowered carpet….At four o’clock she made a cup of tea and carried it back to her shaft of sunlight, as if seeking protection”. (Anita Brookner)
When one first begins to write The Great Novel or The Memoirs the initial outpourings are stuffed with trite statements and old tired metaphors and phrases and you have to go beyond that, far beyond, to be able to reach something worthwhile , something that is new and genuine and fresh. That is very evident. (There is also a lot of redundancy that must be cut out!)
But how about visual cliches? I think one of the problems with many of the quilts we make and see is that we fall right into the same difficulties as the beginning writer and produce stale tired visual cliches. So what are some typical ones, and how can we spot and eradicate them? I’m not suggesting for one moment here that I can do this by the way! But I’m becoming so aware that this is a major problem to be avoided.
Oh yes we do!! Hunt them out :) !!
Hearts!!! I don’t care if I never see a heart again! Especially pink ones and oh, the crassness of I ♥ visual cliches!
People strolling at the edge of the ocean symbolizing deep thoughts and fine sentiments (there was actually a 9 minute you tube of one of those on Facebook this morning!).
And of course we all know what the crashing waves mean when we cut away from a torrid (oops! cliche!) love scene.
And then there’s the ubiquitous hand shake…the hands meeting across continents or some great divide. Yes! seen it! Please don’t make a quilt about it!!
Looking through a popular quilt book I came across many examples: tear drops!, irregular edges (when not a necessary part of the content) especially those where a vine or a leaf hangs from the bottom. People with blank faces. Collages of street signs, and text or handwriting on a quilt is getting very stale now too. Dividing things up with sashes and borders (especially when they appear to be unrelated!), rows of things: flowers, trees, hands….
Images taken from cards (a double cliche!), happy dogs, puppies, kittens and kids and koi– of course! Things stuck on top – like leaves!
It is easier to spot cliches in representational work which is why, I think, so many dislike it but abstract work also has its cliches. I’m afraid that irregular log cabins and irregular squares within a square have also become something of a cliche. Everyone has done it! Great the first time, then it was fresh…but now?
And there are cliched colour choices too – predictable groupings of colours, just look through any popular quilting magazine: the South West look for example. Turquoise and ginger and black. And so on. Nauseating rainbow effects. Or all sweet sugary pastel colours. Or, cor blimey fabrics created by throwing violent colours on top of each other into some kind of 3,000 calorie dye sundae! And be careful you bleachers and rust dyers…it’s becoming obvious!
Anything that is trite, overused, predictable begins to look superficial, tarnished and worn. As with verbal cliches, it is very hard to get away from visual ones for these are the images we are saturated with and they are the ones that come first to our minds. But I for one am going to try to Root them Out! this is why it is often the third or fourth or fifteenth idea about a quilt is better than the first one.
Let’s leave the cliches to the advertisements where they belong! Trash with trash!
The first step in quilt making is learning the cutting and sewing techniques – the equivalent of learning to read and write. The second step is being able to design good compositions: the equivalent of good grammar.
Now the next step would be to put our reading/writing/grammar skills to use in a creative writing class….and write and write and be coached, encouraged, evaluated, critiqued over and over to help us reach the truth and eradicate the dross.
If you have been, thanks for reading!! and please do post examples of visual cliches in the comments!! I look forward to it! Elizabeth
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