April 4th to 10th: “Story, character, dialogue and setting cliches-love them or hate them?”

Cliches-love ’em or hate ’em? Join ITW members Tracy March, Adrienne Giordano, Julie Hyzy, Nancy Naigle, Tracey Devlyn and Jeff Sherratt as they discuss story, character, dialogue and setting cliches. It’s gonna be a thriller!

Tracy March writes about ethical dilemmas in unethical times. As a former pharmaceutical sales executive, Tracy draws inspiration from her experiences and encounters in the medical field and her love/hate relationship with politics. Look for GIRL THREE, Tracy’s debut thriller set in Washington, D.C., in June 2011. Tracy lives in Yorktown, Virginia, with her husband who works for NASA. They recently experienced two years living in D.C, where they discovered enough drama to inspire a lifetime of stories.

Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense, contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She is a co-founder of Romance University blog, is a member of Romance Writers of America, Windy City RWA, Kiss of Death, and RWA’s Women’s Fiction chapter. Adrienne’s books have been finalists in the 2008, 2009 and 2011 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests, as well as other contests. Her debut romantic suspense, Man Law, will be released by Carina Press on July 4, 2011. Her second book, A Just Deception, will be available from Carina Press in September 2011.

Nancy Naigle is a native of Virginia, where she lives with her husband on their working goat farm. It should come as no surprise that her stories have a southern slant. Her debut novel, SWEET TEA AND SECRETS, will be out in May 2011.

Tracey Devlyn writes historical romantic thrillers (translation: a slightly more grievous journey toward the heroine’s happy ending). She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Hearts Through History, The Beau Monde, Women’s Fiction, Windy City and Kiss of Death Romance Writers of America chapters. Tracey accepted a three-book deal from editor Deb Werksman of Sourcebooks, Inc. in April 2010. Her first release, A Lady’s Revenge, will hit the bookstores in 2012.

Anthony and Barry Award winning author Julie Hyzy writes the White House Chef Mysteries and the Manor House Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. She just launched the harder-edged Playing With Matches under her pseudonym, N.C. Hyzy. This is Julie’s first attempt to offer an original novel in ebook form only. Julie lives in the Chicago area with her husband, three daughters, and two cats. For more information, visit her website.

Jeff Sherratt had two novels published by Echelon Press. The Brimstone Murders (2008) became the bestselling book of all time at that house. The second, Guilty or Else (2009) was nominated for the Left Coast Crime Panik Award. Jeff’s third novel in the Jimmy O’Brien series, Detour to Murder, was be released by ZOVA Books in October 2010. He is a past board member of Sisters in Crime/LA, and currently a member of Mystery Writers of America. Jeff is currently working on the next Jimmy O’Brien novel.

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  1. I’m looking forward to my first roundtable discussion. As with anything, cliches are fine in small doses. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of taking a cliche and twisting it into something fresh and active. What I’ve struggled with as a historical writer is recognizing phrasing that’s now considered cliche (but wasn’t a few years ago), or using single terms for objects that are now viewed as overused. That landscape seems to be in constant flux.

    In my opinion, many novelists have learned to cutback on their use of cliches. Not so with movies! Cliches run amok in Hollywood.

  2. Welcome to this week’s Thriller Roundtable discussion. Like Tracey, above, I’m very much looking forward to listening to what everyone has to say and sharing my thoughts as well.

    My first reaction to this question is this: If a story works – if it makes me care about the characters, feel some emotion, and thrill me with suspense – I don’t care if it’s cliche. In fact, when a story succeeds at that level, I often don’t notice the cliches until I’ve finished reading and analyze what I’ve just read. Kudos to authors who do this.

    That said, I believe character cliches are the hardest to overlook. Yes, we have many private investigators, amateur sleuths, police officers, and even serial killers who share similar traits. Of course they do. Many could be considered cliche, and many are. Unless an author gets into a character’s head to learn what makes him or her tick, that character runs the risk of being no more than a cardboard stand-in for what could have been a real, fully fleshed individual.

    Wow, I feel as though I could write on and on right now. But I’ll stop here and jump in again later.

  3. Hello all. I’m also excited to participate in my first ITW roundtable.

    I agree with Julie because sometimes, for me, a cliche just works. Particularly in dialogue. There are funny cliches out there and, used sparingly, dialogue I think it can be brilliant. That being said, there are times when I see a cliche and think there could have been a better option. When a cliche has been done well, I like to think the author was completely aware they were using it and worked to make that cliche a powerful tool.

    Setting cliches aren’t uncommon, but again, I think it’s what the author does with them that makes them work.

    So, if done well, I don’t mind if cliches are used sparingly.

  4. Hey everybody, looks like I’m getting here a bit late to the party. Not because I was trying to be fashionably late either. Would it make you feel better to know the reason is…
    I’m sick as a dog, and couging up a storm?

    Okay, Tracy March’s head is spinning over that. wink-wink.
    I’m glad to be here, and you’ll be glad this is a virtual roundtable or you wouldn’t be able to see me behind my stack of tissues and cough drop wrappers after about ten minutes.

    Love ’em or Hate ’em…… I’m a fan. I admit it.
    Seriously, depending on what genre you’re writing and for what demographic, I think that avoiding every cliche is dangerous to your dialogue health. Why is Hollywood still using them like no tomorrow in films? Because people use them in their every day speech, it’s familiar – a common language, and as far as cliche themes…baby, they sell. At the end of the day it’s entertainment. Okay…and money. 😉

    I’ll admit right up front, for anyone who doesn’t know me, that I’m a southern girl and we use cliches in our dialogue ALL THE TIME. I probably spew them and don’t even realize it. That being said, my novels are southern small town stories and you’ll find some in my writing.
    In my opinion, there are times when I can find a better way to say something, but it’s just as annoying to me to be reading a book with some clever turn of phrase about rain that makes me stop, think and ponder when they could’ve just said, It was raining cats and dogs. We got it.

    So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  5. Hi, everyone. Great discussion so far.

    As Nancy hinted, I don’t have a love relationship with cliches, especially in dialogue. While Nancy makes a great point about writers trying too hard to be clever when avoiding cliches, as a reader, I would rather see a well-done turn of phrase than a tired cliche no matter what genre I am reading.

    In addition to being a writer, I am also an editor. A clause in one of my contracts with a publishing company stipulates that I “eliminate wordiness and cliches.” When working with authors who over utilize cliches, I ask them if they would rather dig deeper and enhance their writing by avoiding cliches or if they would prefer that their readers mentally finish their sentences for them. There is no right answer to this question, yet a manuscript dependent on cliches and a writer intent on keeping them may produce some friction between the author and the editor, so be prepared!

    Like Julie, I could go on and on here. But we have an entire week!

  6. Nancy, you’ve got me wondering. If I wasn’t a writer, would I notice cliches as much? Honestly, I counted 6 cliches in under 2 minutes during the last movie I watched. And they were the old tried and true ones. Like Tracy M said, you could mentally finish the sentence.

    But I have to admit, one of my good friends is from Texas and she throws out the most outrageous cliches. They make me laugh.

  7. Hi all. Does anyone know if screenwriters worry about cliches the way novelists do? I’m assuming not because we hear cliches all the time in movies. Why is it that cliches seem perfectly acceptable in movies yet not in books?

    And Tracey, I think Texans have cornered the market on delivering a great cliche! I worked with a guy from Texas once and he was a master at it. His favorite cliche was “That dog don’t hunt.”

  8. Interesting question, Adrienne. And now that I think about it, I’d have to guess that screenwriters don’t worry about cliches the way novelists do.

    But… to be honest, I don’t know that anyone worries as much as novelists do…. about everything LOL

    I think one of the most satisfying things we are able to do as novelists, is to set up a cliche and then twist it into something new. I think that can be an effective way to set up expectations, but deliver something fresh.

  9. Back to Julie’s comment about character cliches being hard to overlook. That’s for sure. At times when I am book shopping, I don’t have to read any farther than the back cover copy to see that a certain character is going to be a cliche. Fortunately, some readers like this–to get exactly what they expect and can predict when they read a book.

    I also am not a fan of setting cliches. While lots of writers set their stories in big cities (myself included) and small towns (waving to Nancy), sometimes highlighting the cliched elements of these settings is a missed opportunity to give a new perspective on a setting that the reader has seen before. Tell me what’s different, what I don’t already know.

    And then there are story and genre cliches…

    Some of these topics should open a Pandora’s box of conversation. (See what I did there, Nancy?–I used a cliche!)

  10. Okay. I just want everyone to know that was history in the making up there….when Tracy March used a cliche hahah.

    I think cliche’s are not a one size fits all. It’s like voice. We all bring something different to the table that is naturally right for us. If you know me, you’d know that I could say “that dog won’t hunt” and it would fit my personality just fine. I’m a low-key kind of gal and where I live, that’s how folks talk. I’ll admit you’ll see some cliche’s in my dialogue, and probably elsewhere in my stories where I didn’t even notice them. BUT…that’s why I have great critique partners to be sure I don’t get lazy and miss the opportunity of a beautiful turn of phrase now and again. (**you know who you are!)

    Anyone know what happen to Jeff. Did we scare him off?

  11. What a great discussion!

    I’m joining the party a bit late (actually feeling things out before next week, where I’m due help continue this discussion–the next topic is Research, I believe).

    Cliche is an interesting topic for genre writers, since we’re always working hard to be aware of our readers’ expections, so we can meet them while hopefully offering something new and unique that comes from our own creative voice. I’ve actually been participating in a discussion over on KindleBoards this week about how “genre” isn’t a four-letter word. How writing into a niche doesn’t have to mean everything you do HAS to look like what others are doing in the same genre. At least that’s how I feel about it (some, as you imagine, are more purists and aren’t exactly seeing things the same way, especially when it’s coming from the viewpoint of one of “those” romance writers ;o).

    But that’s how I avoid cliche, wether I’m writing romance, romantic suspense, thrillers–or psychic fantasy that includes strong elements from all of these genres. I pay attention and take what works for readers (even if it may at first seem cliche), then use my creative voice to spin the tride and true in a new, unexpected direction. That way, hopefully, I’m meeting reader expectation and hitting the mark in my chosen genre(s), while at the same time breaking enough boudaries to not be doing the same thing over and over.

    I have to say, though, my journey might be easier if I stuck with more of the cliches. If I wrote vampires or zombies or YA vampires and zombies while I’m spinning my fantasies or thrillers or romantic suspenses, I just might be selling more books…

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