The Truth About Truth & Cliche
By Jacob Krueger
Cliché. If you’re a writer, you’ve probably experienced the terror this word implies about your writing: boring, tired, overused, uninspired, uncreative, or just plain not good enough. If you’ve ever been part of a writing class, you’ve probably had the dangers of cliché burned into your brain like a mark of shame. And detecting it like a bad smell lurking in your pages despite all your attempts to avoid it, you’ve probably found yourself questioning if you really have what it takes to be a writer.
So here’s a little bit of truth for you to chew on:
All Writers Write Clichés. All The Time.
Screenplays are just like people. At first glance, they seem like they fit into certain types, but if you look at them closely, you come to realize that they are all filled with complexities and contradictions. People are weird and strange and surprising, and absolutely nobody is normal if you’re looking at them closely. The same is true of every character, every line of dialogue, every image and every scene of your script.
Writing a first draft of a screenplay is like going on a first date.
Based on a very little bit of information, you extrapolate an entire story of who your characters are, and what your journey together might look like. And as well observed as you may try to make it, this story is naturally full of clichés, because you haven’t really gotten the chance to know the character or the story deeply.
As you spend more time with your characters and your story, you start to discover all the things that make them special. The qualities about them that you never could have seen coming on that “first date.” Just like a relationship, this takes time, meditation and exploration… and involves going through some tough times together.
Clichés Are Necessary For Survival
If you were bombarded with all the complexities and contradictions of a person the first time you sat down to sip a Margarita, the chances are you’d never get to a second date with anyone. Yet this is the mistake writers often make with their screenplays, trying to discover every layer of detail before they even have a sense of who their characters are or what their story is.
As cliché as they might be, it’s those early assumptions, that early sense of the scene, the character, or the story, that allows you to hang in long enough to decide which ones you want to explore more deeply. And which ones you want to get the heck out of!
Your job as a writer is not to avoid cliché, to fear cliché, or beat yourself up over being cliché.
When you’re feeling that desperate need to impress people as a writer, it’s hard to just sit down and be real with your characters. So instead of worrying about how people are going to perceive your writing, put your focus on learning to step into the worlds of your characters, so you can capture them as truthfully as you possibly can.
Your job is to allow yourself the clichés you need in early phases of your writing, and then to look more closely at them, so you can uncover the truth, and turn them into more specific, more exciting or more closely observed writing.
Nobody is normal. And no scene is normal either. So next time you feel your writing is cliché, just sit with it awhile, and ask yourself what you’re missing. What’s that extra detail that would make it special, and compelling? What would be slightly cooler, slightly more exciting, or slightly more complex about the truth? Capture that detail, and you’ll no longer have a cliché. In fact, you may even find you have a screenplay worthy of a second date.
Connect to the Truth of Your Characters With Meditative Writing
If you’d like to discover a new way of moving beyond your clichés, connecting to your characters, developing your voice as a writer, and capturing the compelling heart of every moment of your story, I invite you to check out our new 6 Week Meditative Writing class with Jessica Hinds, starting soon.
Each class begins with a guided meditation, and then segues into a series of mind opening writing exercises designed to set free your voice as a writer and connect you to your characters, your story, and the truth of each moment in your writing. Over several weeks, you’ll develop a meditative writing practice that you can use every time you sit down to write to get to your best writing faster, and find the inspiration you need every time you sit down to write. I’m so excited about this class that I’m taking it as a student! And hope that you will join me either in our NYC Studio, or through our Live Online Video Stream.