Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name

Romance writers are always looking for a formula, a template, a golden list of do's and don't's that will lead them down the yellow brick road to publishing Oz.

Through the years, Fio has noticed a number of strange pronouncements--such as that an author should never use any dialogue tag other than "said". Apparently a current mark of Cain is the so-called cliche, as in "Let's get down to brass tacks," a figure of speech which Fio used in one of her recent contest entries.

Now, Fio's contest entries have been doing quite well lately so she isn't going to raise a ruckus with the judges, but she will vent a little spleen.

So said, let's get down to brass tacks.

Languages don't work by dictionary definitions alone. Over time, people work out clever ways to say things and they stick to them because these semantic constructions have become part of the language--everyone in the culture understands them. We call these figure of speech "idioms." The line between an idiom and a cliche is very fine. In fact, the line, if it exists, probably devolves down to this: if the figure of speech irritates you, it's a cliche.

I doubt if "Let's get down to brass tacks" was especially irritating. I suspect the situation was more that some conscientious person was trying to apply an unyielding template.

But it is impossible, Fio thinks, to judge the worth of a story by a set of rules. There are certain guideposts along the way, like the lamppost in Narnia, but the author has to figure out the rest of the way herself.

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