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On Writing Clichés

There are many phrases that I’m sure you would like to never hear again. Some are offensive, some are trite, and some are purely nonsensical. In the business world, most things you hear are some sort of amalgamation of all three. How many times have you heard someone say or seen them write “reach out to you” when they really mean “I’ll call you?” No, don’t bother. I’ll answer: too god damn many.

But no one seems to mind. On a daily basis, I encounter e-mails from recruiters, editors, and the people that write checks for freelancer writers that are full of people wanting to “touch base” or something equally ridiculous (and perhaps borderline suggestive?). People that send each other these e-mails perpetuate them as their recipients simply pass them along as if they were playing telephone. Or herpes.

In games journalism, though, there’s been a crackdown. If you get caught using a blacklisted phrase, you won’t necessarily be punished (at least not in any practical, lasting way), but you will be ridiculed. For at least a week or longer, your rep is at the bottom of a barrel full of shit that’s been tied to several trash bags full of catfish bait and cast off to sea.

“A mixed bag.” “If you enjoyed X, then you’ll enjoy this.” “In the end, this game is about fun.” You, as a reader, may not pick up on it unless you follow a bunch of writers on Twitter, but when you’re steeped in the industry and culture every single day, you understand very quickly what is passé, what has hit the unfortunate status of cliché.

And that’s understandable; relying on clichés is a horrible crutch for horrible writers. It’s an extension and validation of the fact that non-creative people latch on to things that are quickly identifiable as easily communicated because they can’t (or won’t) come up with something original. This is in no way a slight against the people that use clichés; some people just can’t (or, against, won’t) write original words because it’s not their job. It’s my job, however, to write words that don’t make people cringe, angry, or hysterical. Well, at least not because of how banal or poorly constructed they are.

Most modern writing tools even help authors combat clichés and hackneyed phrases. In fact, WordPress alone has checkboxes you can tick off so that it will automatically proofread your posts for things like clichés, phrases to avoid, and redundant phrases. These rank among the other options most people simply know to avoid, like double negatives and passive voice.

The problem is that these clichés exist for a reason. They are, for the most part, accurate and can succinctly impress upon readers what it is we mean without being overly explicit. When I say “beating a dead horse,” instead of coming up with an equally ludicrous analogy, you immediately understand that I meant to say that some part of the game or the industry is a dead end, a pit in which you can futilely throw away your time as you try to fix it.

But then again, we wouldn’t be writers if we couldn’t come up with a thousand ways to sear an image of someone whipping a riding crop at a rotting animal into your brain. These clichés are more like obstacles. They are the moat that surrounds a castle where those can make a living off of expressing their opinions and thoughts in a credible manner with the power of writing. If you can’t overcome such a trivial challenge as to say why a game has both good and bad aspects instead of saying it’s a mixed bag, then you probably need to try harder. Or give up.

But I would prefer that you try harder. Then you would be one less person enabling these HR people’s addictions to touching people’s bases and reaching out at them with their perv hands.

To all HR people or people that use those insipid business phrases: I’m just kidding. I don’t think you have perv hands. I just want you to stop being butts and say you’re going to call me, not “reach out” to me.

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