Updated: Dec 16, 2020
WORKSHOP: Getting away from 1st thoughts & cliches
When students try to describe things they often settle for their first thoughts in order to keep writing and continue moving forward with the story.
This is why students write phrases like,
The boy was scared.
Which is simply telling us something, not allowing us to see or imagine anything. Slightly better would be,
The boy was shaking.
At least this is visual. We can imagine it and respond for ourselves. Only problem with this sentence is, it is rather standard and cliché. We don’t imagine much more than a cartoon of action we have seen many times and there is little to stimulate our imagination. We do not get involved. But if you wrote,
The boy clung to his mother's skirt, knuckles white.
Suddenly we are presented with something fresh and original. We pay attention and we can see it as if we are there.
This is the aim of this workshop. Allow students to get first thoughts down. But then encourage them to push these aside as someone else’s ideas. Encourage them to visualise a variation somehow different to anything they have seen before, surprise the reader. Give us small details which place us there.
It was a beautiful morning.
Is merely telling us something, not describing anything.
The sun was shining. Birds were singing in the trees.
Is better. But it is very cliché. How about,
Streaks of sunlight found tiny beads of water balancing on grass blades. The whole garden winked and twinkled.
Get them to try this.
She was happy.
Isn’t very good because it just names an emotion. It tells us but doesn’t show us anything.
She skipped and smiled.
Is better. But pretty cliché. What could they describe to bring this moment to life? What original and fresh details would put us there to witness this one particular girl or pregnant woman or old bag lady or ancient Chinese woman.
Now work through these dull statements. Ask students to create a fresh and original and authentic and surprising rendition:
It was an exciting finish.
He didn’t drive very well.
She was rather ugly.
My eyes were sore.
The children were making a lot of mess.
There was a terrible smell in the hospital corridor.
The tramp was acting strangely.