Unprintable: The LitReactor Podcast Episode 11 - Storytelling Cliches

Every month, Unprintable will take an irreverent look at books, the publishing industry, reading, writing, and more; featuring the know-it-all geekery of LitReactor columnist Cath Murphy, Class Director Rob W. Hart, and Managing Editor Joshua Chaplinsky.


Episode 11 - Storytelling Cliches

Is sexism sexist when women are excluding their own gender, or just plain sexy? Like a lesbian version of discrimination? And is Amanda Palmer's "A Poem for Dzhokhar" the worst poem of all time? Are we being overly-dismissive hipsters if we say yes? And why does Rob hate Jonathan Safran Foer so much? Find the answers to these burning questions and more on the latest episode of Game of LitReactors.

Reads: Cath read three books but we only let her talk about one, so she picked the one she enjoyed. Rob plugs yet another book put out by the publisher he works for and Josh makes yet another futile attempt to summarize a book that is difficult to summarize and is in some way related to his Steve Erickson obsession.

Topic: Storytelling Cliches: Which are the worst offenders and why? And can you actually build a great story out of one?

Related Links

As always, if you enjoy the episode, please rate us on iTunes, and if you're feeling extra specially generous, write us a short review. The few we've gotten so far have been great. They help us sleep at night!

Any questions? Comments? Criticisms? Suggestions? Help us help you. Email them to podcast@litreactor.com.


Your Hosts

Cath Murphy writes for a bunch of literary and film websites (where “bunch” isn’t quite as many as it sounds), offering unwanted opinions on anything that appears in her crosshairs. She is a co-host of Unprintable: The Official Podcast of LitReactor.com, and along with the fabulous Eve Harvey she also podcasts very rude stuff on Sluttylemon.

Rob W. Hart is the associate publisher for MysteriousPress.com. His short stories have appeared in Dogmatika, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Crime Factory, Thuglit, and Shotgun Honey, and he is the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella. He lives in New York City. You can find him on the interwebz at www.robwhart.com.

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He also writes for Twitch and has written for ChuckPalahniuk.net.


Special thanks to Gordon Highland for the intro and musical cues. Visit him at gordonhighland.com.

Image of The Sisters Brothers
Author: Patrick deWitt
Price: $10.07
Publisher: Ecco (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 336 pages
Image of The Hot Spot
Manufacturer: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Part Number:
Price:
Image of Magnetic Field(s)
Author: Ron Loewinsohn
Price: $13.48
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (2002)
Binding: Paperback, 181 pages

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things May 9, 2013 - 12:51pm

You guys should do a podcast over "the line" that separates bold work from inappropriate work. There's a lot of places to go with it, like banned books, age differences, and so forth. After spending some time in the workshop, I think there are writers who try to write "adult" using shock value and miss the mark terribly. Might be a topic worth exploring.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson May 9, 2013 - 2:02pm

Shock for the sake of shock. Not a bad idea. Thanks for the suggestion.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this May 9, 2013 - 6:42pm

I dig it. 

Slate it, Chaplinsky!

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast May 9, 2013 - 11:58pm

Such a fine line between 'bold' and 'pornographic' (as the arresting officer said to me).

I'm in.

 

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like May 10, 2013 - 3:28am

There is nothing wrong with Daft Punk.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like May 10, 2013 - 4:05am

Also, since you say you don't mind people taking swings at you, consider the following in "good faith"—

---------------------------------------

It seems absurd for a man who gets paid to re-publish old crime novels to claim that someone using such a familiar trope as "the dream" shouldn't be writing, period.  It's such a general concept that to completely take it off the table is frankly foolish. 

Why not suggest that, since there are lots of good crime novels already published, people shouldn't write them anymore?  Because that would be foolish: a bank robbery in the thirties in not the same as a bank robbery today, and so a "new" bank robbery book can be written.

Dreams are not entirely analogous to bank robberies, but in fact are more open-ended.  I agree that the specific trope of "It was all a dream" used to end a story is pretty weak in and of itself, but I have no doubt that someone out there could renew it.

"The dream," being an experience nearly everyone has had, is not unlike other universals which permeate writing since the beginning of civilization.  To anyone with some degree of scientific awareness of the human brain, "the dream" appears as a different phenomenon than to, for instance, an ancient Greek writer.  Why, then, shouldn't a contemporary writer feel free to try including a dream?

--------------------------------------------

Is the widespread idiomatic, hyperbolic overstatement of tastes and preferences really any sort of substitute for case-by-case analysis of literary merit?  Of course not.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson May 10, 2013 - 5:19am

I agree, and I believe we touched on this at one point, but any storytelling cliche can be given a twist or be done well enough to justify its usage. It's just that most times that isn't the case.

And I personally don't mind dream sequences. I don't see italics and zone out like Cath. Still, the deus ex machina reveal of "It was all a dream" is definitely a cop-out and deserves our ridicule.

 

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this May 10, 2013 - 9:04am

J, I will cop to the fact that I often fall victim to hyperbole in the name of drama. This was one of those cases. 

I also said cliches can be done well but often aren't. It's a sentiment I repeated in discussing the "chosen one" trope. When Josh asked me if using cliches well supercedes the fact that it's a cliche, I said yes. 

So it seems like you're cherry-picking an offhand comment and ignoring the other stuff I said. I'm pointing that out in good faith. 

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes May 10, 2013 - 9:34am

Ok, let's just get it right out of the way. You guys were great, witty, charming, urbane, informed, adroit. Oh wait, I sound like a walking cliché. Sound the freaking alarm.  “Cliche” itself is the most hackneyed cliché of them all!  As proof look no further than the last 20 minutes of your podcast – argumentum ad nauseam. Whoops, no Latin please.

And no inside jokes or cultural references such as summoning the ghost of Chris Farley to make a guest appearance in this comment:

“Josh, 'member when you used the words knickknacks, bric a brac and art d'object in a single sentence? That was freakin' awesome. Cath, 'member when you ruled out the use of italics, dream sequences, time travel and any reference to music in any of our writing or you would turn the page? WTF lady! You just spat on half my repertoire. Rob, 'member when you were self-congratulating yourself about getting 50,000 hits on your cliché column even though it really hadn't come out the way you wanted it to and the others called you out on your blatant Amanda Palmering?”

Actually, that was one of my favorite bits. I also liked the free spirited discussion of Magnetic Field(s) by poet Ron Loewinsohn and the questions raised –

What happens when you take a character, any character you are used to seeing in a certain space and put them in a new space?  (They morph into something unexpected.) Is that book about Parisian apartment blocks that Cath read the same idea only playful? (Give us a link will ya.) Are there patterns for the famed Norwegian vagina costume available for free on line?  (Yes but you'll need a lot of pink foam.) Is there a specific link to Norway in this regard? (If there is I couldn't find it.) Curioser and curioser.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson May 10, 2013 - 9:37am

So it seems like you're cherry-picking an offhand comment and ignoring the other stuff I said. I'm pointing that out in good faith.

Classic Rob.

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things May 10, 2013 - 9:50am

Upon reflection, I've decided that reversing the "magical negro" cliche and creating the "flamboyant black janitor who gives bad advice" is not a good idea.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like May 10, 2013 - 10:18am

So it seems like you're cherry-picking an offhand comment and ignoring the other stuff I said. I'm pointing that out in good faith.

You could put it that way.  Of course, it'd be downright obscene for me to try and address the entire conversation point by point.  So, yeah, I picked a point and expounded upon it in order to say some things which weren't said, not to try and make your discussion appear inadequate or make an example of you or anything along those lines.  I was not so much arguing with you as arguing from you. 

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like May 10, 2013 - 10:19am

"flamboyant black janitor who gives bad advice"

I think there was one of these in Confederacy of Dunces.  Maybe not so much a janitor as a guy who sweeps up in a bar.  I don't recall his name.

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast May 13, 2013 - 1:12am

@Jeff: here's the Goodreads page on Perec.

My review of 'Life: A User's Manual'

And here are some vagina costumes (see what I mean about the pink satin).

@J--my: my secret name for Rob is 'Mr Grumpypants'. Oops - not a secret anymore...;)

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes May 13, 2013 - 9:01am

@Cath:  Wow, Perec's a wild looking dude! I will be reading that book of his.  

Pretty Spry for a Dead Guy's picture
Pretty Spry for... from I'd prefer it if you didn't know. So would you, only you don't know it. is reading whatever he makes time for this week June 18, 2013 - 1:03pm

Side note: Jennifer Connelly was in Labyrinth, not Legend. Which is the better film between the two as far as I'm concerned.