Friday, February 10, 2012

2012.02.10 A Famous "Cliché"

“Old Marley was dead as a doornail. This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

Writers take note. These are two sentences in the opening paragraphs of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.(The quote above is taken from the screen play for the movie version starring George C. Scott, fyi.)

The punch of the point, however,is more important than assignation and is written in a, heaven forbid, cliché. (It might not have been in Dickens’s day but he alludes to it as such.)

A cliché today would be enough, especially on the first page in the first sentence, to render one’s manuscript “dead as a doornail” indeed and buried in the slush pile.

A doornail is a stud set in a door for strength or as an ornament. Useless, hackneyed, overused, trite, lackluster AND lifeless? Maybe, but don’t you have doornail days? As a writer those are days when my every word is dry, zestless, blah, and every sentence deader than a doornail.

Thank you Charles Dickens for giving me the courage not to be so afraid that every darn word I put on the page MIGHT be a cliché or some other sin inviting death.

Write free as a bird, happy as a clam, cool as a cucumber!


JLC said...

Surely Dickens would be the first to acknowledge that one reason cliche's get to be cliches is because they're so apt, no one can think of a better simile quickly enough. And boy, do I know what you mean--about those doornail days!

wenvirly said...

I don't disagree with the premise that writing needs to be free, and can be stifled by 'fussing and fretting', but in the edition of the Cristmas Carol that I am familiar with, the sentence about the doornail actually doesn't appear till the end of the first paragraph, and the sentence starting, " This must be distinctly understood . . . " doesn't appear till the 4th. The second paragraph is a rather ironic digression about the 'cliche', which is then repeated.

"MARLEY was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

Sorry to carp (-:

Lyn G. Brakeman said...

I stand corrected for my inexactitude Wenvirly. The point still remains that fussing and fretting stifles and Dickens does allow that "the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it... ' and etc. Perhaps the "simile" simply speaks for itself, by now fresh as a daisy :)