Everyone says, ‘avoid cliche’. Nobody says ‘guard against your own cliches’.
Well, nobody except Alan Moore.
In the afterwords of his tiny little chapbook Writing for Comics, Moore gives writers who are a decade into their profession some more meaty tips.
Perhaps the most useful of those is:
- Stand guard against your own style
- Notice the things that become devices in your own work
- Ruthlessly destroy them.
Moore does this by way of a discussion about style. His attitude is that if you are not capable of spotting the devices that you use, you are unable to destroy them. And if you don’t destroy them, you become your own cliche.
The term cliche is new to English. It was first attested in the late 1800s. Its origin?
A stereotype block used in typesetting.
Cliche is a jargon word that also leans on the term for ‘click’, which was originally supposed to define the sound of metal striking metal. Its first use as a derogatory term wasn’t until 1888, and it was not common in English until 1920!
At the risk of running you into a deep diversion, I want to tell you about stereotype blocks.
Stereos (as they were known) were metal plates created by setting a mould of set type, and could press an entire page. The ‘block’ was the plate attached to a wooden block.
While a set of stereos was an investment, the risk in not creating a set of stereos for a print run was multifold:
- If you under-estimated the run for a book, then you’d have to re-set all the type, which became immensely expensive. This happened with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Custom House, which required a new run within two months! The printer hadn’t created stereos and had to re-set the book again. But, because the printer still didn’t create stereos, they had to reset the type yet again for a third time, to do yet another run. (It was a hugely popular book, with unprecedented demand.)
- If you didn’t create stereos, then until a job was complete you couldn’t use your assets (type, leading, furniture, etc) until a job was complete. If you took stereos then all your moveable type was freed up for another job.
Now that you know this, you know that a cliche is something that allows you to free up your mental resources by re-using something.
Thus Alan Moore’s admonition:
‘If your stories are receiving praise for their somber, thoughtful tone then that is precisely the time at which you should consider doing something lightweight and stupid.’
‘If we can discover and identity our limitations as writers then we have an opportunity for a kind of jiu-jitsu dynamic where we can work off of those limitations to actually further ourselves.’
Replace ‘writing’ with your content type if you work in videos or games or audio or other…
Now, Moore’s comments are as true in business as much as they are in writing (or any other content).
It is the business that strikes out at right-angles when it’s on a roll, ahead of (or separate from) its competitors that stands the test of time.
And it’s the business that understands the nuances of content limitation that will enthral its audience for years.
You’ll never stand strong against the waves of change, the fury of format change, or the wiles of the world, unless you’re capable of spotting, eliminating, and moving on from the cliches that you create to make your work easier and faster.
Make it harder for yourself.
That’s the path of glory.
Now you understand why I mentor writers, and why they pay me $500/month to coach them. Ain’t nothing fluffy about smashing your practise apart over and over again.
If you’re keen to bring some of this S&M into your life, go to https://brutalpixie.aweb.page/content-athlete-coaching
xx Leticia “taking you down the rabbithole” Mooney