Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What I learned: John Hilton on avoiding cliches

YDR staffers who won Keystone Awards learned about everything from blending in to dealing with roadblocks to having difficult conversations with sources. Religion reporter John Hilton's story about the result of a fire at a local church was part of a Thanksgiving-day series on people who were thankful even though they'd lost something or experienced a difficult time. It won first place in special projects in the Keystone Awards.
This story came about soon after an exercise on trite writing in which the entire newsroom participated. We were shown a photo and asked to write 150-200 words in the most trite phrases we could produce. Competitive as I am, I was determined to win the gift card at stake. And I can admit now that I cheated a bit, searching the web for trite words and phrases to boost my entry.
I didn't win the gift card, but I gained a new insight into predictable writing. To this day, I am thinking about that exercise with every story I write. I force myself to try new words and phrases and to avoid the tritest of the trite. Sometimes the results are rejected by an editor, but it's still a good learning exercise.
I love John's effort to avoid cliches even if it means trying a word or phrase that doesn't work. Why settle for writing the same old stuff everyone else is writing?