I love Clichés. I do as of now, anyway. I didn’t; afterall, we’ve all been taught not to use them.
Today I read the last half of the last chapter of James Wood’s book How Fiction Works. This book is difficult to read, filter, and discuss. It’s as difficult as writing novels. The section was a discussion of realism, more or less, and while I’m not sure I learned all his lessons, it did hit home. He ends it with
Realism, seen broadly as truthfulness to the way things are, cannot be mere verisimilitude, cannot be mere lifelikeness, or life sameness, but what I must call lifeness: life on the page, life brought to different life by the highest artistry.
Can I get a wow?
Earlier he explained that the metaphor “colder than ice” was once considered original by the caveman that first used it, and too much trope becomes mundane. Yet we cannot throw such techniques or even cliché aside casually. Replacing one obsolete technique with another merely sets up the new technique for obsolenscence.
The overall message I got was prose has to be charged. Such an adjective is not restricted to poetry where it’s expected. Prose is not the poor cousin. It is just a little different. It’s slower, more mundane, and pedestrian [life-like], and I think any writer will agree nobody can read 500 pages of super-charged prose. There is a balance somewhere in the mix of charged words, accepted technique, details, narrative, exposition, dialogue, tension, scene, and theme written with words that capture the reader, creates a vision, and perhaps conveys a lesson or meaning. Words that may be plain but carry a deeper meaning.
I wrote about 400 words today, additions to my novel. I’m currently editing four scenes. I’ve been at them for two weeks trying to make them work. Today I edited three of them. I added realism: real feelings, real emotions, and real thoughts. I slowed it down some but added some real grain to it. I re-read them, and the tension now jumps out, themes are fulfilled even more subtly than I hoped, and my empathy for my character has deepened.
*Sorry, I’m not ready to share any of it.
So what have I learned? When you’re stuck, don’t rush into fixing it. Let it simmer, and focus on fundamentals. Review how to write a scene, the elements of writing [your style], the elements of your piece, and perhaps something new [and maybe related]. Reading Graham Greene also helped. We as writers should read daily, not only stories and poetry but also technique.
Time to watch the US Open!