Next week I’ll be moderating a panel at Left Coast Crime in Portland titled, “The Taste of Copper, the Smell of Cordite: Clichés in Crime Fiction.”
This topic in one form or another crops up just about every year, making the panel itself a kind of cliché. I’ve heard Martyn Waite deride the jazz-loving detective, and Karin Slaughter bemoan sex scenes where all the male hero has to do is, basically, show up.
Someone sooner or later mentions the smoky-voiced, sex-soaked femme fatale who bears a greater resemblance to Natasha from Rocky & Bullwinkle than to any living, breathing woman. And Chandler’s old saw, “When you get stuck, just send somebody through the door with a gun,” is always good for a brisk flogging. (Why not send him in with a dowsing rod, or a flaming parrot, or a penis pump?)
But as I began to organize my thoughts for this thing, I realized that in all the general writing conferences I’ve attended, I have never – never, not once – seen a panel titled “Clichés in Literary Fiction.”
Why is that?
[pullquote]Perhaps the greatest cliché in literary fiction involves not phrasing or character, setting or plot devices, but tone. I mean, of course, irony.[/pullquote]
Does literary fiction present such a broad range of human experience – beyond what one finds, for example, down the nearest mean street, or inside the average police station – that it doesn’t need to revisit the same predictable situations over and over?
Please. I wish to introduce Exhibit A: the middle-aged college professor (or the housewife with a degree in Comp Lit) contemplating an affair.
Are perhaps the writers of literary fiction so advanced in craft and lofty of mind they never succumb to a commonplace phrase?
If only. [Read more…]