Once upon a time there was a writer who thwacked away at the ivory keys, pounding out his thoughts in a dreary rhythm. Tap, tap, tap. Tappa, tap, tap. And so the sound drifted through the glazed windows of his log home. For him, words flowed out of his mind, through his fingers; for him, writing was as easy as pie. There he remained in an old, slouched chair to compose his masterpiece instead of in a stuffy coffee shop because there’s no place like home, he thought.
Except for the time that she stormed out and left him. He had once been told that absence makes the heart grow fonder. For a minute, the keys stopped, and he paused. What lunatic had told him such nonsense? It was as plain as the nose on his face that absence had made the heart grow colder. What was that saying? Oh, yes: Ask me no questions and I shall tell you no lies. Indeed, he cursed! Hardly a question had he breathed to only find out that her heart had been stolen by someone else. He was at his wit’s end of what to do. First it was denial, then shame, then frustration, and finally he was broken-hearted. Alas, all is fair in love and war, he chided.
In the blink of an eye, the writer snapped up from his chair, rubbing his reddened eyes. Down the hall he could hear the sizzle of breakfast and the soft humming of his love’s voice. By Jove, he clutched his head, it was all a dream!
For many self-proclaimed excellent writers and other well-to-dos, the words, “It was all a dream,” make their skin itch like literary bugs nibbling their skin. They cringe, shut their ears, scrunch their eyes, and look away, the proverbial death of good literature upon them. But do we ever really consider what cliché truly means? Do we understand its uses as a literary device, or even as a simple part of our culture? Yes, the dictionary will tell you that a “cliché” is a stereotyped phrase that expresses common belief but has been overly used. What a shame that we see it so black and white. Literature is anything but definite. If we take away its ambiguity, we take away the beauty and intensity of language!
Indeed, even gods of literature such as Shakespeare have phrases that have become obsolete or over used, but is that the author’s fault? Or is that our fault? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” is arguably one of the most romantic lines (and I’m biased to hopeless romance) that has yet to be challenged by contemporary literature. Are we to say that merely because we have heard over and over and over in conversation, media, other literature that we are to roll our eyes and think less of it? What is wrong with writing the way we speak, or in a way that reflects our culture’s common phrases or beliefs? I could write that his being obstinate in accepting his mistake was a case of the dancer blaming the stage. How often has someone heard this phrase in America? If you think it is an American cliché, you are sorely mistaken. It is Indian.
Granted, the short story that I coughed up above is not glamorous, but it has a purpose and that purpose is to say that clichés are here to stay in our literary world, that they have functional uses, and that if we continue to think of clichés the way we do…well, guess what? Pretty soon any phrase that is popular or common will be outdated or exasperated in any culture. Don’t get me wrong, I strive for originality in my language and plot. But human culture was not an individualistic phenomenon, it was collective and thus we think in very similar ways. And yet again, I ask you: what is truly original?