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Friday, October 10, 2008

More on writing and recognizing the Cliches

I have found that many people don't recognize the Cliche factor of most stories until you point it out. Cliches aren't obvious because the public's disbelief has been suspended so deeply, it resides in a fog somewhere in the back of their minds.

I have this "bit" I do with a friend of mine that's based on a line I heard from a local stand up comedian. The comedian said he was watching a rerun of "Three's Company" the other night. "It was the one where there was a major misunderstanding."

We took the premise of the joke and found we could apply it to almost any TV show. At parties or other social functions, as we are standing around interacting with people, one of us will start the bit:

"Hey you know, I was watching a old Don Knotts movie the other night. It was great!"
"Really? Which one was it?"
"It was the one where he got real nervous and scared."
"Oh yea. I saw that one! "
"And then I saw an old "Leave It To Beaver" the other day, maybe you'll remember it. It was the one where Beaver does something he wasn't supposed to do because his friends talked him into it. Then Ward finds out and has a talk with Beaver that has a moral lesson."
"Oh Right! That's my favorite episode! Speaking of which, did you ever see that one "Gilligan's Island", where they almost get rescued but Gilligan somehow messes it up at the end?"

As we go on with our, slowly you can see the light of recognition come on in the eyes of people around us and someone will finally say, "But, that's EVERY episode!"
My point exactly. Sometimes you can take the cliche and reuse it over and over and no one will realize it. Some people make a living doing that. Andy Warhol became famous for painting ordinary objects: Brillo Pad boxes, Tomato Soup Cans etc.. Common objects we see everyday, but presented in a new and different way.

Once you are aware of the cliches and the basic plot lines, the creativity comes in trying to dress them up and sneak them into the party. It's similar to the old saying that you have to "know the rules before you break them." If we take the old "romance" plot of "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back" and twist the ending where suddenly the boy really doesn't want the girl back - or "doesn't give a damn" - you have "Gone With The Wind".

If you take a few standard plots, one about a washed up boxer who doesn't throw the fight when he's supposed to, and another one about two bad guys who hunt down a stolen briefcase and try to get it back to their boss, mix in a little romance and have a few threads that connect all the stories, you may have something the public has already seen. But what if you chop up the story? Take the beginning of the story and put it at the end. Take the ending and move it to the middle. Take the middle and use it at the beginning. That way, no one will notice the cliches. Then you have "Pulp Fiction".

Again, once you recognize the cliches and become aware of them, they are much easier to manipulate.