The Silver Lining | A new drinking game! Count the cliches!

*Disclaimer. If you are under 21 or driving in a car or pregnant, this game is equally as fun with water–think of it as a race to get your 8 glasses of day in.

So have you ever played those drinking games where you have to do a shot or take a sip whenever something is repeated? Like everytime Sting sings the lyric, "Roxanne" in the song Roxanne? This weekend the boy and I took a five-hour eight-hour (thank you Connecticut traffic!) drive up to Vermont to spend time with my future in-laws and relatives. After we bored each other with repetitive conversations about weddings and all the infinite possibilities of crappy first-dance love songs my iPod held (apparently I prefer sad break-up songs to love songs), we flipped on the radio.

And we started to notice a pattern.

Your mission is to drink whenever you hear a cliche line in a current Top 40 rock song. Go ahead, try it! You’ll be drunk texting old boyfriends by the end of one song. To add more fun, I challenge you to stand on your head whenever the cliches all make sense and work together in the same paragraph. Don’t worry, you won’t have to stand on your head because honestly, it felt like all those artists just pulled cliche phrases that rhymed and stuck them together hoping no one would notice they made no sense.

What really shocked me though was how often we heard these songs on our drive. These are not obscure songs. These are CURRENT HITS! And because of their embracing of cliches and the gritty quality of their voices, all the songs are jumbling in my head. Without Shazam deciphering them for me, I’d never remember who sang what. They aren’t memorable. Same thing, different tune. It just made me wonder. Is this what the musicians hoped for?

And this brings me back to the topic of writing because there have been a few books I’ve read in recent months that I cannot remember anymore. The books sold well, but since the themes were done before and the characters seemed familiar, I just can’t remember any distinguishing details. And that makes me sad. I want to remember! I want the books to stay with me so I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about them!

Along these lines, then there’s a big author I recently read another book by that seemed formulaic, same structure as all the others, just drop in different settings, conflict, and characters. (Though the characters weren’t all that different either.)

Now, I have a photographic memory so it’s extremely rare for me to just forget any details of a book. Has this ever happened to anyone else? Where you spent time reading a book and then you just can’t really remember it after even though you enjoyed the reading of it? And I wonder why this is, why the book slips from my mind. Is it because the themes are so generic and done before that I can’t quite find anything unique to make it stand out?

I’m sure all these authors are super happy with their sales, just like these musicians are thrilled by their chart-climbing hits. But is it better to be generic? Or be memorable? I know you can be both and still sell, I’ve seen it happen loads of times! You can even use a done-before theme and twist it up and make it unique so it stands out. (Twilight is the perfect example. Human girl falling in love with a vampire is not new. In fact, I had avoided the book for a few months when it first came out because it seemed too much like Buffy to me. But the book is far from forgettable and definitely sold pretty well and offered a new twist on the usual lore, way different from Buffy’s take.) So then why do I see so many books with the same, tired themes out there that don’t offer anything different? Books that look like carbon copies of one another? I literally read two books back to back a few months ago that had the same plot and same characters just a different setting–and both were entirely predictable even when I read the first one. I realize they are from different publishers and it could be a coincidence, but honestly, I could have guessed the entire story arc/character arc without even reading because the same sort of plot has also been done on TV loads of time. (Unfortunately, I can’t name names or give plot details for obvious reasons. And LJ friends, I’m not talking about any of your books or anything so don’t get paranoid please! I love you all! And you all definitely do not fall into the categories I’m talking about here.)

This post kind of went off on a tangent. I’d originally intended it to be fun and we could laugh at cheesy lyrics. Oops. Now I feel weird posting some of the ones I was referring to. So I’ll just give you a sample under the cut:

SECOND CHANCE by Shinedown

I just saw Hailey’s Comet, she waved
said, "Why you always running in place?"
Even the man in the moon disappeared
Somewhere in the stratosphere
(Is it just me or does it feel like this word is in here solely because it rhymes?)

Tell my mother, tell my father
I’ve done the best I can
To make them realize
This is my life
(I can’t hear this line without picturing James Van Der Beek in a football jersey)
I hope they understand
I’m not angry, I’m just saying
Sometimes goodbye is a second chance

NOT MEANT TO BE by Theory Of A Deadman

It’s like one step forward and two steps back (I so want to add "Opposites Attract" here)
No matter what I do you’re always mad
And I, can’t change your mind
It’s like trying to
Turn around on a one way street
I can’t give you what you want
And it’s killing me
And we’re starting to see
Maybe we’re not meant to be

(that’s just a good sampling, but the rest of this song is one cliche after another).

There was one more song that stuck out to me on the drive but I can’t remember it now. It might have been Nickleback? I don’t know, they all sound the same to me!

Anyway, it was just something I was thinking about and wanted to know if I was alone or what other people think. Maybe I’m slightly jealous and that’s why I’m overanalyzing here. Would love to hear your thoughts!

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3 Responses

  1. I think it’s amazing that cliches are practically revered in music and outlawed in fiction. I must admit though, that I too actually enjoy cliches in music. Good post!

  2. You aren’t overanalyzing at all.

    I have almost no grasp of the French language, but I often listen to a Quebec radio station to avoid going crazy counting lyric cliches. I suspect my craziness comes from avoiding them when writing–I even cringe when they need to be in a bit of dialogue.

  3. I’m aware of the cliches in music, but have never really noticed them, just because it’s so typical for them to HAVE cliches.

    Your thoughts on books and cliches have made me think, though. It’s great when a book sticks with you and seems utterly unique despite having long-used themes. The author of my favorite series EVER pulled that off. When she started writing a new series a year or so back, though…eh. Her writing had improved, but it felt so formulaic, and pretty much a copycat of the other series — and not in the ways that made that series so great. (Even the series title was mirrored.) Definitely disappointing.

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