RARA-AVIS: convention v. cliche/rara avis

From: Carrie Pruett ( pruettc@hotmail.com)
Date: 08 May 2002

i don't think the fact that a theme, character-type, style, plot device etc is common, familiar or even overused is enough to make it a cliche. most definitions of "cliche" talk about something trite and hackneye. per Merriam webster:

>TRITE applies to a once effective phrase or idea spoiled from long
> >familiarity <"you win some, you lose some" is a trite expression>.
> >HACKNEYED stresses being worn out by overuse so as to become dull and
> >meaningless <all of the metaphors and images in the poem are hackneyed>

therefore, i'd say that something is only a cliche if its ineffective. once you've "made it new" it's by definition no longer a cliche. of course that's a subjective judgment but so is "trite, hackneyed," etc. I think there are supposedly only 6 plots or whatever they say, and Shakespeare used all of them (and they weren't new then either -) so I think that writers and publishers who are too hung up on finding a unique or novel angle are missing the point.

as for conventions, i don't think you can have a genre without conventions. recognizing the old conventions and the way they've been adapted for new time/place/character/technology or whatever is a big part of the fun.

complete change of subject, but i've now got a personal rara avis sitting on my computer; I was driving through west virginia last weekend and stopped at a gas station that sold a bunch of little trinkets including figurines supposedly made out of local coal. among them was a black four inch statue that i think is supposed to be an eagle but bears at least a passing resemblance to hammett's most famous MacGuffin. of course, I couldn't resist. i chipped at it a little bit but definitely no gold or gems underneath. nice visual aid though.


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