It’s New Year’s Eve. I was thinking about the end of the movie When Harry Met Sally. You know the scene (well, unless you haven’t seen it, in which case, spoiler alert!)—Harry is racing to meet Sally and tell her how he feels as the clock ticks towards midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The countdown to the new year, the airport chase scene, the race to the altar. All of these so-called clichés don’t have to be avoided entirely. (After all, the urgency in the examples I listed helps to heighten the drama.) You just have to know how to use them in a fresh way. Here’s how:
10, 9, 8…
When you’re veering towards clichéd territory, first consider if it’s truly necessary to include it in your writing. Is there another way to convey the same idea, perhaps in a new setting or under a different set of circumstances?
If you’re really tied to the cliché, think about how to turn it on its head. What would be the expected outcome, the clichéd outcome? What if the opposite happened? Or look at bringing in new elements—change the characters, the emotion, the motive.
And if none of these modifications work in your story, write it well. Use unique language that jumps off the page, witty and beautiful and so full of life. Create descriptions and dialogue that transform the clichéd scene into something that sounds completely new.
Don’t get stuck in the trap of feeling like everything has already been written. You can get away with using clichés… if you write through them until they no longer appear to be clichés.
Is it ever okay to use clichés? How do you make them feel fresh?
Start with a cliché of some sort (feel free to use the New Year’s Eve countdown scenario if you would like). Write about it in a new, fresh way for fifteen minutes.
When you’re finished, please share your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please respond to some of the other comments too!