As a book editor, I sometimes find my author clients don’t believe me when I tell them an expression is hackneyed. Hackneyed (cliche) expressions are somewhat forgivable in nonfiction writing, but in fiction, they’re the kiss of death. How many times have you read the phrase “rosy-fingered dawn” or “the sweetness of his kiss”? How many more times do you want to read them?
The problem is that authors sometimes don’t remember ever before seeing a particular expression. They think they’ve made it up. I sympathize. There are times when I thought I invented a tune playing in my head, only to hear it the next day on the radio. I of course had heard the melody before, and it played in my mind from memory, but I thought I was hearing “an original work.” So much for my future as a composer.
Fortunately, my future as a book editor is more promising. Especially since I recently found a sure-fire way to convince unbelieving clients that a phrase they used is as common as dirt.
Here’s what I do: I tell them to Google it. They then discover amazing facts like: “rosy-fingered dawn” appears on 380,000 websites, “sweetness of his kiss” on 118,000. This drowns out all denial: the phrase is proven hackneyed, and the author decides to dig deeper for an original way of expressing dawn’s early light or love’s first kiss.
Google . . . and you thought it was just a search engine.
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional