Alida gets out her high horse to talk about a dead horse in this Word Essential 60 Second Writing Tip.
If you prefer reading to watching, read on!
I want to talk about a couple of overused words / phrases in fiction today.
The are: anything that smells like ozone, and blood that tastes like copper.
These should be avoided in your writing, because they’ve become trite…
trite |trīt| adjective
(of a remark, opinion, or idea) overused and consequently of little import; lacking originality or freshness: this point may now seem obvious and trite.
hackneyed |ˈhaknēd| adjective
(of a phrase or idea) lacking significance through having been overused; unoriginal and trite: hackneyed old sayings.
First off, what is ozone? Do you really know?
Wikipedia says: It is a pale blue gas with a distinctively pungent smell. (pungent means sharp). And: Ozone’s odour is sharp, reminiscent of chlorine.
Think of the mood you’re trying to create in your story. If there was a big thunderstorm and your lovers are reuniting as the clouds part, do you really want the air to smell like bleach?
Look. Do you know what ozone smells like? Really? Describe it with a simile. What is it like? Don’t say it’s like that smell after a thunderstorm or the smell of electricity. That is what it is. It is also pungent and sharp (synonyms, by the way)
pungent |ˈpənjənt| adjective
having a sharply strong taste or smell: the pungent smell of frying onions.
Pretend you’re describing it to someone born without a sense of smell. Now what is it like?
However you answer that question is what you should write in your story in place of the word ozone.
Curiously, the word ozone comes from <O-zeen> ozein (ὄζειν), the Greek verb for smell.
If you’re wondering whether or blood really tastes like copper, or why it does, you aren’t alone.
A quick search online reveals that many people have asked this question. In fact, the top entry on Yahoo Answers says, “Every sci-fi novel I read mentions a copper taste in their mouth…”
I really want to correct this person’s usage of their. But moving on!
It seems that blood really does have a metallic taste that is like copper or iron, depending on who you ask, and that it has to do with the red blood cells. I’m not actually sure if this is fact or fabrication and I don’t care right now, because we’re talking about stories, not science.
I see copper in stories so frequently that I want to ask the writers, how do you know? Did you bite into a penny and then bite your lip and taste blood and compare the two tastes? Or…and this is what I suspect is more likely…have you simply seen the statement made so often in fiction, like the person on Yahoo Answers, that you’ve accepted it as fact? Worse than fact, you’ve accepted it as an apt way to describe your character having blood in his mouth?
Like ozone, the blood tastes like copper thing is trite and hackneyed. In other words, folks, it’s been done to death. The horse is dead. Put down your stick and walk away.
Look, smell is probably the hardest sense to pin down. I know I struggle with it. And if you aren’t often tasting blood, you probably don’t know and aren’t so keen to find out what it does taste like. It’s quick and easy to fall back on ozone and copper. Heck, I may have mentioned a copper taste in the mouth somewhere once. But never again!
To do so is to be cliché. So: If you can’t describe the smell or taste you’re after in a fresh, vivid manner, skip it. Far better to not mention the smell or tastethan to say it smells like ozone or tastes like copper.
Let’s take the pledge together. Place your hand over your heart.
I, ______________________________, do solemnly swear to avoid clichés in all my narrative writing. Furthermore, I shall not ever mention ozone or blood tasting like copper in my fiction, because the offending phrases have been done to the point of being trite, hackneyed, meaningless, pointless, tired, and generally not fresh.
Now, go forth and create beautiful similes, my friends.
And while you’re at it, have a great writing day!
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