Yikes. I just found out that I’m a cliché. Not my writing, not what I’ve written. Not the stack of papers that I just wrote this semester. But me. The way that I look at things and the way that I portray things is completely and utterly cliché.
I’m a cliché. I’m a cliché. How can I even handle that information? Cliché itself, as a word, as a thought, whatever, has to be a cliché because my computer cleverly adds the little backwards hoohah over the letter e. To save me the trouble when I type it a thousand times. Props to technology.
Cliché. It’s not a word to me anymore. It has lost all meaning, though I’m not entirely sure that I had a rock-solid definition in my head to begin with.
Cliché. It’s what I am. Because that’s what I was told.
“I’m sorry, here, Pam,” he said. “Your work is a hard sell because I find you cliché.”
“Umm, okay,” I said. What the fuck? Man, was I pissed, but what could I say? How could I possibly respond to that comment? Should I ask what the hell he meant? Without the word hell and as nicely as possible? Without crying or screaming?
My mind didn’t go a thousand miles a minute, like they say. Instead, I was numbly pissed. Furious. His comment made me furious.
“I find you cliché,” his echo trilled itself into my mind. Maybe he was saying something else but I wasn’t sure it was English. Over and over it pounded me, “I find you cliché.”
I wanted to puke.
Looking more busily irritated than sorry, he leaned across his desk to hand my manuscript back, even though I had made it clear that it was his copy. He didn’t even want to keep it. Then he gave me one of those “now get the hell out of my office because I’m a busy man” smiles.
“Wait, sir,” I said as professionally and kindly as I could muster. I even added the “sir” as a sign of respect. Clearly gaining his respect was key if I wanted an honest answer. I couldn’t shout at the man after all.
“Look,” he said sternly. Yes, he said it sternly. I felt suddenly small, like I had been slapped or scolded for stealing a cookie or a bra. “Everyone wants to write fantasy. Everyone. And what you have is nothing new to me.” No emotion, businesslike.
As my eye started to twitch, I wondered if I was having an aneurysm. I was only twenty-three but I had heard of a girl in New York that had had an aneurysm when she was sixteen. I couldn’t remember if they had ruled out obesity, or if they had deemed the cause extensive stress. This eye twitch was certainly brought on by stress, so maybe I was okay.
I was upset. My story was new to me. I wrote it specifically thinking that I would want to read it. I thought that it was insightful, that my characters were rounded and unique, and that I actually had a great storyline that would inspire many more works from my profound little fingertips.
I don’t just write blindly. I have my scene note cards (suggested by hollylisle.com) plotted out and I have specific plans for all of my characters so that the audience will get to know them and like them before they die, or do something that a reader wouldn’t otherwise believe.
And I know that characters have to go through certain events before they can pack up and adventure in the extraordinary world, and that every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, should do something (big or small) to advance the story. You can’t just have characters wandering about the lands with no direct / indirect reason for each town, person, or event. And of course, the hero / heroine needs to have a direct call to action before they can decide to take up the cause, and they have to fall into deep despair (or something otherwise debilitating) and overcome it before they can kill / destroy the antagonist.
It was good, dammit! I was certain and proud.
Though now considering the turn of events that I have to have planned, maybe it is a bit cliché. But characters do have to go through certain trials (emotional or physical) to be believable for the reader, and their transformation into a round and lovable character has to be accomplished by certain means. It’s an unacknowledged but necessary purpose for writing good fiction. Jeez.
Obviously when I submitted that horror / erotica piece to Playboy it had poor chances of actually getting published. Playboy doesn’t exactly prefer the horror in their funk. I can understand that.
“Your piece has been read and we are sorry to report that it is not quite right for us,” they wrote, on a piece of blank white paper, the little Playboy stamp at the top, though it looked suspiciously unprofessional, not what I expected from someone of their caliber. But I can understand that they probably send out thousands of rejections a week, let alone the amount of submissions that they get and are subjected to reading. Paper quality isn’t for me to decide.
Though concise, my piece wasn’t right for their magazine. I get it; I’m not an idiot. At least they gave me something valuable.
But this, being a cliché. I couldn’t understand. Because of what I want to write, that in itself makes me cliché?
“What should I do?” I asked solemnly, trying not to roll my eyes, or cry.
“I can’t tell you how to write.”
“But what should I change?”
“Again, I can’t tell you what to do, here, Pam, but I suggest you figure it out yourself.”
Then he handed back my manuscript, put on his glasses and swiveled in his expensive leather chair away from me. I stood up from my chair dumbly, a little awkward, holding my manuscript in shaking hands and thinking that surely I had just been accosted somehow. Like I had been in a fight; that light-headed queasy-stomach wanna vomit feeling. Perhaps my mouth was even hanging open.
Then I snatched my backpack off the floor and walked in what I was sure a professional manner out the office door. He didn’t know what he was talking about.
I thought I had grown enough of that coveted thick writer’s skin to take such criticism. Though that’s what bothered me most. He didn’t give me criticism; he just called me a name. How could I improve, without knowing what I needed to improve upon? I can’t stop being a cliché if I don’t know what makes me one. What the fuck is a cliché person anyway? Answers abound, I’m sure, but not within my mind.
So, let’s see what the trusty dictionary.reference.com has to say…
- A trite or overused expression or idea.
- A person or character whose behavior is predictable or superficial.
Trite! Overused! Ahem. I must be the second definition, “predictable or superficial;” which isn’t significantly better.
What’s that expression? Getting the thing stuck in your craw? Well, how can he call me cliché when 1) he doesn’t even know me, probably has never even seen me before this moment, and 2) he hasn’t read more than two words of my work?
In fact, he just skimmed the first page, for, like, two seconds, and then he flipped through the last fifty like the pages were blank or something.
How can I be a cliché? I’m a college student for God’s sake.
I cried for half an hour, ate a double cheeseburger with a medium powerade, and went home to write my third five-page essay of the week, in what I told myself was a cliché free and astutely profound manner.
I figure that maybe he was just having a bad day. Because, in my mind, I cannot overcome the cliché within me until I discover where the hell it is hiding and how the hell it got there.
So I need to find it before it molds.
The level of anger that he incited within me surprises me. Actually, I can’t say that I’ve ever been that angry with someone I just met, whom I hoped could help me in an advisory fashion, having extensive knowledge and an air of someone to look up to, distinguished even.
Now, it’s not that I don’t entirely believe him. In fact, I’m more concerned that he could be right. But what do I do to fix it?
What if I am a cliché and I never knew it? How many people before him thought that I was an idiot?
I’m not sure what to do. But I’m not entirely sure that I care. It’s extremely difficult to care when I don’t know what it is that I should be caring to improve.
Let him think that I’m a cliché, let everyone else think it too. I have decided to embrace whatever it is that makes me unique, cliché or not, because I think that I’m good at fiction. I love it. In fact, I love what I write, and I love how I approach what I write.
And that’s that. So, fuck ‘em.