Sunday, July 14, 2013

Writing tips from a professional writer/editor (and oversensitive former resident of a certain Boston suburb)

Here are two reasons clichés are generally bad for journalists:
  • One is that they are clichés, and you can do better than that. You want to write, write.
  • The other is that words actually have meanings and implications.
Let's focus on the second one, shall we?

When journalists (or anyone) use common turns of phrase, they (we) have likely lost sight of at least some of the meaning and implication. At least some readers will not.

Now, I use clichés all the time. I'm the worst. Catchphrases, too. But also, I write a blog that specifies part of its mission is funny stories at my expense. As such, I have two advantages over the journalists who once were my colleagues:
  • It's all about me, so I examine me a lot. You haven't got time for that stuff, because you're writing about other people.
  • I have a readership consisting of people who are already ready to make fun of me in a basically kind way, and to call me on my crap directly and readably. Seriously, look at the comments. I encourage it. Probably 20 percent of the folks who read this blog are or used to be copy editors, and probably 50 percent or more have been directly involved in some kind of social justice work — and those are not discrete categories.*
All this is by way of saying, both to the reporter at CNN and to her editor, when one describes the town I went to high school in, which has recently experienced a tragedy in which a young woman was murdered, thusly:
"It's the kind of idyllic American suburb where 'things like this aren't supposed to happen.'"
... a reader has to wonder, in what kind of place, exactly, are things like this "supposed to happen"?

What, exactly, are you saying or implying — and why would you do that?

Also, who does it benefit? And how?

*Example: I looked up "discrete" to be sure I had the right one, because I was sure I did, but what if I'd been wrong? Some of the commenters would have been chuckling about it over drinks for years.


Joe said...

At least they didn't describe the 'burb as "leafy."
Damn, I hate that. OK, there are a lot of trees there, we get it. Not sure what that has to do with a murder or other shocking crime that may have occurred.

S said...

Yeah I don't like what the 'it's such a quiet area' cliche implies. I do a bit of writing on disability, and with that it is important to stay away from cliches but also incorporate a bit of personal.