Idioms and Tone

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Athena
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Idioms and Tone

Postby Athena » Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:26 am

In a rough draft, I often find a lot of idioms and cliches slipping into my writing. That's fine. It's a rough draft. It's easy to eliminate them in the revisions process. However, in the submission I'm currently working on, I find myself wanting to cling to a few of the idioms. My story is set in a fantastical version of a very specific time period, and I keep feeling like some of these little phrases, old fashioned things though they are, add a certain period flavor to the piece. There've been a few that I've just turned on their heads by adding the fantastical elements to them, but there are others that are simple enough that they're not really twist-able.

I'm curious if anyone else has run into this before and how you handled it. Did you grit your teeth and slice them out or did you keep them? And how did that turn out for you?
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amoskalik
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Re: Idioms and Tone

Postby amoskalik » Sun Nov 27, 2016 7:14 am

Whenever there is a rule like don't use cliches, don't use adverbs, don't use passive voice it is because inexperienced writers abuse them and therefore they become associated with novice writing, so you are correct to be cautious. However, the only real rule is, does it work? If as you say, the idioms evoke the period and are used to good effect, then keep them. You may want to be extra cautious about using them in the first page or so however as that might give a harried slush reader with an itchy trigger finger reason to reject.
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kentagions
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Re: Idioms and Tone

Postby kentagions » Sun Nov 27, 2016 8:17 am

I agree with amoskalik on usage. Chuck the rule, round file it, kick it to the side, but look before you leap.

Idioms add color to your universe. Idioms exist due to shared cultural norms that have become common to a population. I will go one degree further than amoskalik and suggest that dialog is flat without them, so they are a necessary part of world building.

My first entry in WotF received an HM. It had a number of idioms that I invented specifically for the story. Because they were properly set up so as to be understandable to the reader, no beta reader or critique has ever mentioned them. (One is about the break-up of a marriage. All marriages in the story share common rites and gifts, so denying the rites or destroying the gifts has significance. Enter an idiom about threatening divorce.)

I believe that idioms help pull readers into the story. In order to promote shared meaning (be effective), I think that they need to be about relatively specific situations and actions common to a majority of readers.

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Athena
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Re: Idioms and Tone

Postby Athena » Mon Nov 28, 2016 3:19 am

Thanks. This is what my gut is telling me, too. The idioms I'm using either help add a certain time-period flavor to the piece or they add to the world building because they turn familiar phrases on their head in a way that only this particular world can. I will approach with caution, though, and make sure I'm using them when necessary and not out of habit.
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MattDovey
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Re: Idioms and Tone

Postby MattDovey » Tue Nov 29, 2016 12:43 am

I think there's a world of difference between a character using idioms in dialogue--which builds the world, and reflects the way people really talk--and you, the writer, using cliché in the narration. Which is to say:

"Bloody hell," said Patrick. "It's raining cats and bloody dogs out there!"

is fine, and characterful, and gets the idea across, but

Patrick looked out the cottage window. It was raining cats and dogs across the moors...

is less fine. There's an argument to be made for a tight POV being like dialogue anyway--indeed, I'd make that argument wotf008--but as a general rule of thumb I see the latter done more poorly in slush, and it often comes across as amateurish.

Idioms that get across world building are a useful tool and don't sound the same cliché alarms (he says, using a cliché wotf002):

Patrick looked out the cottage window. It was pouring rain like tears falling from the face of Great Bannog...

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Athena
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Re: Idioms and Tone

Postby Athena » Tue Nov 29, 2016 4:15 am

Good advice, Matt. I've limited most of it to dialogue, but there are a few that are a little more questionable. It's that tight 3rd person POV, though, that's got me scratching my head. Where do I draw the line between what I, the writer, am saying and what the character is observing and thinking.

I'll re-examine with all of that in mind. Thanks so much for the input.
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