Do you ever come across a sentence in a book that you find yourself going back and re-reading several times? Because it strikes you in some way as being special – it might be beautifully constructed, amusing, inventive, or just exactly the right sentence for just that place? That happened to me today as I was ready Broadchurch by Erin Kelly. Kelly is already one of my favourite authors – she’s just so good. Below is the sentence that struck me, underlined; I’ve also included the previous one for context.
An air vent in the tiny window is held together by masking tape and on the still are some dried flowers in a wobbly clay pot and a wooden cat. A health-and-safety-notice clings to the wall for dear life.
Why did I like the underlined sentence so much? I think there were three reasons. Firstly, it’s a creative, different way of saying something otherwise banal like ‘there’s a notice on the wall’. Second, there’s a dash of playful, ironic humour in the concept of a health-and-safety notice apparently being afraid and in some kind of danger. And third, it just fits so well. The passage is written in the perspective of a hot-shot city reporter walking into a small-town newspaper office, and she’s casting her sardonic eye across the rather down-at-heel surroundings. It’s the kind of observation such a person might make in that situation.
Perhaps I’m making too much of one little sentence; and probably many others people would find it unremarkable. Just a little thing. But it struck me and I wanted to explore why.
Do you find yourself doing this sometimes, reading and re-reading a phrase, sentence or passage and thinking, ‘wow, now that’s writing.’?
And yet, there are those who would condemn that sentence for using the expression, “clings … for dear life,” and say that it was trite, worn-out, and a cliché. What do they know? Obviously, not the Art of Writing. Thanks for sharing it!
Now that’s an interesting point. I hadn’t really appreciated the fact, but yes, it’s an expression that’s often used and could therefore be described as a cliché. And clichés are bad aren’t they? (In fact I believe that point appeared on my own recent list of ‘rules’ …) I guess it comes down to what sounds ‘right’ and appropriate in a given situation, and to me that sounded right. And maybe, clichés are a bit like adverbs in the sense that most would agree the writer can get away with a few, judiciously used – just not too many. Thanks for pointing this out.
Whether or not something is a cliché is in the eye of the beholder. 😉 They’re called clichés because they “click” – and that expression “clicked” with you, because it communicated well. Idiomatic expressions distill the essence of language. That’s what makes them beautiful. There’s been too much negative labeling applied to parts of speech and other components of our language’s lexicon. There are no “bad” clichés; like the occasional profanity or ungrammatical construction, they have their place.
As you said: right, appropriate and judicious are the keys. 🙂
[…] … I don’t think clichés are always necessarily fatal to good writing. I present as Exhibit A my recent post on ‘Striking Sentences’, where I shared a passage in a book I was […]