What is that phrase you read that bugs you? It’s not cliché (like all that and a bag of chips), but yet, because it appears in almost every single book you read, it is cliché. My phrase: Everything went black. (Here’s a little something fun–the origin of the phrase “everything went black” and other clichés…)
Today I’m going to talk about how I avoid using that small, vague, obnoxious sentence (if you do use that, I’m sorry–maybe you like it–I don’t), and I’ll give you some tips for how to revamp your own overly used phrases.
Step 1: Say exactly what you mean.
I don’t like “everything went black” because it leaves so much openness for what’s really happening. Usually, this phrase happens when someone’s getting knocked unconscious. (See, I’ve seen it so much that I can actually put it in context!) An easy fix for the “everything went black” disease is to say exactly what’s going on. There’s power in distinct words.
Let’s see an example. My character is falling off of a horse, and then suddenly “everything goes black.”
Okay, what I really mean is this: My character was too late to grab the horse’s mane when it startled, and the animal skitters out from under her. Green grass and blue sky swirl together until her eyes settle on a brown fence post. It’s going to hurt when my head hits that. Her head smacks the post (thank the good Lord I wore my helmet today), and she slumps to the ground. The last thing that’s clear is tips of grass tickling the inside of her nose.
See how that made a much more vivid picture for what’s actually going on? Granted, you could probably say all of that in fewer words, but that’s just what came to me at the moment.
Step 2: Go experience what you’re trying to write.
Here’s a little secret. Do you want to know how I got my example in step 1 so vivid? I went out and lived it. The girl falling off her horse? Yeah, that was actually me in disguise. (Don’t worry–I wasn’t really knocked unconscious.) I’ve discovered that the best way to de-cliché-ify something is to go experience what you’re trying to say. Then write down exactly what happens to you. Of course, do this at your own risk. Don’t go try to purposefully spook a horse and fall off just so you can write about it.
Decide to come out of the writing cave every once in a while, interact with some people in real life, and see what surprises you.
Step 3: Delete it.
If doubting you can make adequate repairs, delete the thing. Chances are, your wording reads just as strong without an added phrase like “everything went black.” Then you can open the next scene with people in a flurry and your character confused because there was this black unconscious space, but you never used the cliché wording. Go you!
Step 4: Just because.
I challenge all of you writers to use the phrase “everything went black” to mean something more than being knocked out.
Keep being your brilliant selves, and believe in the writer inside of you.