Jennifer K. Oliver

Speculative Fiction Writer

Month: February 2018

Writing Cliches: The Underworld is Dim, But Comfortable

The room was dimly lit, with threadbare carpets and an overstuffed armchair in one corner.

There are far too many dimly lit rooms and overstuffed chairs. Surely people in fictional universes can figure out how to screw in a sensible wattage light bulb or get LEDs? Those with advanced technology or a bit of disposable cash really have no excuse. Surely furniture manufacturers can work out how much stuffing goes into an average-sized chair. If it’s bulging and looks ready to burst, it’s probably a good idea to stop stuffing.

I wonder if this is a collective subconscious thing, where us writers worry that we’re just a bunch of dim, overstuffed creatures. Which is not the case. We are (generally) awesome.

In the Fiction Cliche Dante’s Hell, a level is reserved especially for people doomed to cram wads of foam into straining cushion covers, their knuckles raw and bloody. All the while, emaciated chairs stalk around with whips, reprimanding any of those lazy chair-stuffers for slacking.

Yeah. It could happen.

Everyone is guilty of hitting the writing cliches button from time to time. Occasionally a writer will use a cliche on purpose, to make a point, to parody, or just because they have balls. These two cliches are big bugbears for me, but that isn’t to say they will stop me from finishing a story I’m otherwise enjoying.

I’d like to hear what your bugbears are when it comes to writing cliches or overused descriptions. Which ones are you happy to let slide?

Time Travelling, Awkwardly

Something that can always pull me out of a story is the unlikely passage of time. It’s something that probably shouldn’t bother me, and I try not to let it, but logic often taps on my skull and it snags my brain. This is what I’m talking about:

They paused and stared at each other for a few minutes. “Ok, you can drive,” she finally said.

A few seconds can sometimes feel like an age staring at somebody in silence in the middle of a conversation or action. Imagine how creepy and weird a few minutes must feel. Have you ever actually timed, say, three minutes, paying attention to how long you’re silent and counting? Yeah, it’s a long, long time. Time enough to go make a cup of tea. Or a sandwich. While Character A is gawping at you for “long minutes” in shock, you could have popped to the supermarket and resupplied your cupboards or started catching up on the latest Blacklist.

When I’m trying to show the passage of time in my stories, I generally time how long something could take. So a character staring at another in shock might only be three seconds before somebody speaks or takes action. Three. Seconds. Not three minutes. There is a big ol’ difference.

To be fair, it’s not always easy to keep track of these things, especially if you’re powerhousing through draft after draft of a story – it’s easy to go unnoticed. I bet I could find a few in my own stories; those pesky details that slip through all the nets because, until you stop and think about them, they aren’t obvious. But it might be worth logic-checking the passage of time, just for the unfortunate people like me who tend to stop reading to boggle at how incredibly awkward that three minute “shocked pause” must be.

New Blog, Much Tidier

I’m moving my Dreamwidth blog to WordPress for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Photobucket recently switched to a paid image hosting platform and almost all of my old images display as a ghastly Photobucket placeholder. Secondly, WordPress is just a cleaner, fresher place to be. The fact that so many of my posts are broken on Dreamwidth bothers me too much, so I’m bringing content that I think is still relevant or interesting here.

I have written a lot about writing and reading, shared a lot of graphic design and artwork, and talked a great deal about life in general over the years. It would be a shame for it all to get lost under placeholder pics. This is a laborious task, however, and it will take some time weeding out the good stuff and discarding the irrelevant. Please bear with.

Find me on Twitter, Instagram (predominantly graphic design), Goodreads and various other places. I will blog here from now on, though I still might mirror relevant posts to my Dreamwidth journal from time to time.

I still run my graphic design business at J. Oliver Designs, where I create promotional posters, book and story covers, business card designs, website banners and graphics, as well as corporate material. I love designing for fellow authors so if you’re a writer looking for a cover or promo graphic, drop me a line.

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