Re: RARA-AVIS: convention vs clich鼯H1> From: George Upper (
Date: 07 May 2002

--- wrote:
> If one utilizes established genre conventions, ie:
> first person pov, femme
> fatales, psychotic sidekicks, is one automatically
> trafficking in clich鳿
> If so, does putting a unique spin on said convention
> eradicate the clich鿠


You posted this a while ago, but I saved it because I think it's a good question and I figured it was likely to generate some good conversation. I was surprised that it didn't, but perhaps it got lost in the nominating and voting for the Top 100 Plus 11.

Anyway, my two cents: No. No.

I think part of what makes a genre comfortable and enjoyable to its fans are the things that they come to expect from it. Some writers, however, manage to keep the work comfortable AND "make it new" as Pound said. Some things--first person POV, for example--are typical of the genre, but certainly not required. Also, given the rather limited number of POV choices, I think you could call any of them "overused." In fact, this sense of overuse of the 1st person probably helps give rise to the rather silly first-person-alternating-with-third-person stuff of Parker's CRIMSON ROSE and THIN AIR, Burke's PURPLE CANE ROAD and Block's HOPE TO DIE (I think the latter two do much better jobs with it--Burke's is unquestionably more subtle--but I know I'm in the minority on that).

Having said that not all such conventions automatically equate to cliches, however, I should balance that by arguing that avoiding cliche goes beyond, in my opinion, "putting a unique spin" on the convention. When I was in high school, I'd write silly little PI stories in which the PI was basically Spenser with a different name, a black belt in Tae Kwan Doe, and a penchant for perfect Manhattans (not just a Manhattan, mind you) rather than Irish whiskey and beer. His psychopathic buddy was kind of a displaced backwoods guy who wore overalls and grubby long underwear shirts--but he performed the basic function of a Hawk or Clete. I'm oversimplifying, of course, but I think I spun the characters pretty well
(for a 15 year old, anyway) and yet remained cliched.

But, heck, what do I know? You're the screenwriter; I'm just a poet.


===== George C. Upper III, Editor The Lightning Bell Poetry Journal

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