Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Originality at all costs?

When we strive to dispense with clichés in writing, there’s always a danger we might pursue originality of expression too far.  It’s not so much that we ‘cross a line in the sand’ as that we climb into a Chieftain tank and (clunking from first gear into reverse and then back again) drive forwards and backwards over that line until it becomes a wriggling worm holding up a tiny white flag and shouting as loud as it can (in worm-speak of course): “Hey I surrendered when you started writing this sentence!”  Somewhere along the way we forget what we’re saying … and the caterpillar tracks sink deeper and deeper.

            Sometimes we struggle so hard to invent a refreshingly new way of saying something that the result becomes enjoyably bizarre.  With this in mind, and even though this set of examples is a few years old now (you may well have seen it before), I enjoy sharing the following with senior students who are in the process of developing writing folios.  They usually get a buzz out of these examples because they were purportedly taken from essays written by Year 12 students in neighbouring New South Wales and because they can relate to the dilemmas which helped create such wonderful lines, and I can't help laughing because they can't help laughing and because I’ve got a juvenile sense of humour! There’s a couple of sentences that suggest the same sick mind at work and there’s a couple of sentences I wouldn’t have minded penning myself.

           Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

            He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

            She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature prime English beef.

            She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

            Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

            He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

            The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

            The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

            McBride fell 12 storeys, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.

            From the attic came an unearthly howl.  The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and “Sex in the City” comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

            Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

            The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot oil.

            John and Mary had never met.  They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

            Even in his last years; Grandad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

            The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil.  But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

            The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

            “Oh, Jason, take me!” she panted, her breasts heaving like a Uni student on $l-a-beer night.

            He was as lame as a duck.  Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame.  Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

            The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

            He was deeply in love.  When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

            She was as easy as the TV Guide crossword.

            She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

            It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

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