Charles Daly


Category: Blog (page 13 of 15)

The Pathology of Cliché

The cliché virus comes in two common strains.

The first is cliché of language, those over-used phrases we all know and love:
the icing on the cake
the heat was stifling
the sky was on fire (at sunset)
to your hearts content
dead as a doornail
a loose cannon

You get the idea…

The second and more virulent strain is what author Donald Murray calls “cliché of vision.” Cliché of vision is all encompassing. It compromises a writer’s images, characterization, and story before she even commits them to paper. As the name suggests, COV amounts to a trite way of looking at the world: worn out lenses through which car salesmen are sleazy, cab drivers are wise, artists are tortured, and villages are quaint. Clichéd vision makes for easy writing and agonizing reading.  

Cliché of language is remedied by reading more. Cliché of vision remedied by living more.

Competence and Good Boy Syndrome

You get competent by following the rules. 

You learned to read and write by following the rules of the classroom. You learned how to play the piano by practicing scales. You got your BA in English by putting semicolons in the right places and by seeing the right things in the same books everybody else was reading.
We get competent, some of us get good and get passionate and decide to make a life out of our area of competence. That’s when the trouble starts. Competence, the very thing that won us gold stars, becomes a given. We get lost because our education has taught us to seek approval, but approval is not what art’s about. Your band doesn’t earn a cult following because you’re in tune, nobody stays up reading your book under the covers with a flashlight because it’s well punctuated. 

School’s out, do something that might get you detention. Get weird.

Check out the anti-conformity classic “little boxes covered by Cheyne Kohl’s latest project, Ookpik

Get a Bad Haircut

Get an ugly haircut the day before you start a big project, one you wouldn’t want to be seen with in public. This will make it easier to follow the first commandment of writing and glue thy ass to the chair . I’m currently sporting an overgrown buzz cut like Sid Phillips from Toy Story. 


Roald Dahl’s 7 Qualities of a Fiction Writer

In his collection, the Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Roald Dahl lays down the seven qualities “you should posses or try to acquire if you wish to become a fiction writer.” They are as follows:
  1. You should have a lively imagination. 
  2. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don’t.
  3. You must have Stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week and month after month. 
  4. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can. 
  5. You must have strong self-discipline. you are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick  you off if you start slacking. 
  6. It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humour. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children it’s vital. 
  7. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvellous is heading for trouble. 
Dahl also recommends keeping a day job, emphasizing that most great writing through the centuries has been the work of amateurs and hobbyists. He sites Dickens as a rare exception. 
Not one to suffer fools, he shared some tough love in response to a fan who sent him a short story “expecting to be introduced to his publisher.” 

Hear the fantastic Mr. Dahl paraphrase these tips, and add a few more, in recordings from the Roald Dahl museum.

You Are Not a Storyteller

Unless, of course, you actually tell stories.

Comma Story

We interrupt our regular programing to bring you a public service announcement from TED. 

“Put your A** where your Heart Wants to be.”

In an interview with Oprah, Steven Pressfield reminds artists to remain seated

put your ass where your heart wants to be. And by that I simply mean: if you want to paint, put your body in front of an easel, if you want to write, sit in front of a keyboard. And then just plunge in. 


What You’re Doing Right

Knowing what you’re doing right can be just as valuable as knowing what you’re doing wrong. But your inner-bully doesn’t see it that way. 

Who Else Would be Thinking in Your Journal?

You don’t need to write “I think…” in your journal. Ever.

Take a Break from Punctuation

Do like Cormac McCarthy and work with only comas and periods for a while. Maybe take something you’ve already written and rewrite it without all those “weird little marks,” as he calls them. 
Watch your sentences become cleaner and tighter. It’s easier to listen to your drafts doing it this way, to make music with your words rather than just figuring how to make them play by a set of rules you learned in school. 
If you’re hardcore, cut out quotation marks too. You could be inviting a mess. But done carefully, writing without quotes will force you to work on tone. Let the reader know who’s speaking by developing your characters’ unique voices, not just putting tick marks around their words.
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