Hackney Howler and Phrase..literary agency to the ..um...

I've been glued to your blog these past few weeks (as well as a few others). I don't envy you, but appreciate your generosity.

Anyway, I've seen you mention "hackneyed phrases" and "howlers" that make you reach for the SASE. Another blogger compiled a list:

Can you tell your loyal readers (who are trying to be concise and use "vivid language") whether or not these words and phrases scream cliche! Stale writing! and warrants a "sorry, not for me."

-race against the clock
-web of deceit
-determined to unmask
-wants nothing more
-spins out of control
-torn apart by
-vows to expose
-world falls apart
-forced to confront
shaken (by)
and: desires, mysterious, (the) truth, entire, suspicious, revelation, diabolical, conscience.

Yes, and no.
Yes when they are used in the usual way. For examples you need look no further than many of the HH Com posts.

No, if they are used in a way that brings a fresh or new perspective to the phrase.

"Miss Snark raced against the clock to save the world" is hackneyed. (Of course it's also ludicrous-Miss Snark would never try to race. She has been known to crawl toward gin in a speedy fashion, but racing is left to others.)

"Miss Snark raced against the clock, Hickory Dickory Tock, behind Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley and Sage, the Theramin Marching Band, in the First Gin of the Year 10K "--that's not quite the cliche it should be.

In other words, think about everything you write.

And howlers are phrases that have unintended meanings. Like "Miss Snark's attentions gave rise to Mr Clooney's hopes."


Katie Alender said...


Killer Yapps spent the day at the Wiener Dog races while Miss Snark stayed home, determined to unmask a gin martini shaken (by) George Clooney.

But Killer Yapp came home early because most of the dogs had flees. Miss Snark's diaolical vow to expose, uh, Mr. Clooney, crumbles like the dreams of so many Snarklings.

(Word verf: What does Snoop Dogg call his Levi's brand tent? dnmhzi)

Anonymous said...

Snarkles, come on, you know it wasn't unintentional, nor, contrarily enough, are they called 'hopes'.


Anonymous said...

I not only ruined my keyboard with this...but also have a revised respect for Miss Snark with her valuable answer.

Anonymous said...

I think some of those could be great.

John "vows to expose himself" to every passing poodle.

John "explores" his pocket, but is sidetracked with embarassing results.

When John's groin is "torn apart by" the sudden move, he realizes he was never meant to dance.

When John's flea "flees", the flea circus is no more.

John finds out that he's really the titan Atlas when he shrugs and his "world falls apart".

As usual, John's right eye "spins out of control" at the sight of the buxsom Jane.

John slowly "crumbles" to dust after the incident with the Medusa.

When John "redeems" his coupon at Hookers-Are-Us, he gets much more than he'd ever imagined in the person of Flapjack Ethel.

Anonymous said...

I admit, when I'm reading poetry or prose submits for the e-zine, and I read "so and so touched my soul" or "warmth flooded my soul" or anything flooding throughout anything-soul, mind, body, I think "yawn" Or, those overly "romantic" phrases, or almost anytime I see "love" used (except as Ms S says-in a way so unique, I can't help but be won over...)

I just hate cliche's and I've said this a billion catapultion times, even here most surely I have as the words fill my soul, and my very being is flooded with conviction, and I love you, I do, with every ounce of my flooded upon soul, how I do hate cliche's and if they end up in my work, I die a thousand souless deaths upon the oneness of being.

And don't get me started on "business-letter" phrases in fiction. *oh heavy sigh*

Maybe it's all been said, it's all been done - however, there is always room for the fresh phrase, for the placement of tone and voice and mood that makes the cliche something unique and dazzling and new - something that causes the reader to stop and read the word/phrase again, for they want to feel it one more time; the one that causes the reader to catch up their breath and know they've just been transported to some place deep and wild and wonderful!

Take some care with your writing. It's easy to spout off regular old scruffies - old comfy slipper words--a bit more difficult to stop, delete delete and place instead a bit of magic. Or perhaps you'll be lucky and the words will just fling themselves out of your fingertips, straight from that little pot of googy good stuff that lies simmering deepity deep deep.


Anonymous said...

Theremin marching band ...! Hallelujah.

Bernita said...

Dear me, if I had known one of my posts about the Crapometer was going to make Miss Snark's blog I would have made the list ... longer.

HawkOwl said...

Kathryn: can you explain or give examples of what you mean by "business letter phrases in fiction"? I can't picture it at all.


Anonymous said...

In a world beset by conspiracy, everyday life can be a race against the clock. In a world where as mundane a thing as the price of goat feed is enmeshed in a web of conspiracy, one often wants nothing more than a brief respite from the mysterious machinations of demonic powers.

Even while enjoying a leisurely break over flavored coffee and hot chocolate, one can find their world crumbling. Take the case of my mistress and me. Last Saturday we sat in one of the local coffee bistros. You probably don't have one like it where you are. Where we live, Goats and humans stand on nearly equal footing. I figure when humans learn to walk on all fours, we will be finally on the same footing, But, I'm not here to talk interspecies politics. So, let me tell you what happened.

It was all in what we overheard. We were forced to confront a web of conceit so deeply embedded in Carpine politics that it set even our insulated and romantic world spinning out of control. We were determined to confront this great evil, having once heard of it and verified for ourselves that it was the entire, diabolical truth.

I already knew you couldn't trust French Alpine Bucks. One stole the love of my life away. They're devious, though an FA doe can always wag a cute tail. So, here my mistress and I sat, table to table, so to speak, with a muscular FA buck, and he was – oh my Great Goat God, it pains me even to write it – talking to a sheep of indeterminate sex. Sheep are the low-lifes of our society. They're thugs at best. And they leave lanolin stains everywhere.

We wanted nothing more than to find another table, but the place was crowded, and we were forced to overhear their conversation. I am constrained from revealing all the details. The world isn't ready for that yet. But, they revealed enough of their nefarious desires for us to know they were beyond redemption. The phrase "pure evil" doesn't even begin to touch the depths of their depravity. All I can say is it involved sex for hire, the price of sweet corn in London, and a Scotsman who, it turned out, had a great passion for Wellington style boots.

As we sipped our respective drinks (mine was the hot chocolate) their plot unraveled in great spirals. It's full revelation left us speechless, but determined to unmask this great evil.

What, you may well ask did we do? The solution wasn't readily apparent.

"We've gotta flee," my mistress whispered, after the unisex sheep cast her a wicked glance.

"Well," I said, "If you've got fleas, you most certainly did NOT get them from me!" I squinted at her over my cup of chocolate.

"Not fleas, you silly goat! Flee! Run! Hopscotch outa town."

The light dawned in brain, and I ignored the insult. Goats never win at hopscotch. It's one of the few games at which you humans have the edge. Now if it were poker … We have great poker faces.

I think she felt bad about the insult though. It seemed to hurt her conscience, because she reached over and combed her fingers through my beard. "Leaves," she muttered. But I saw the twinkle in her eye.

To be continued …. Maybe someday.

Anonymous said...

You'd like my town, Bill. We have a Sleepless Goat cafe!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear anon:

That would be Kingston, Ontario, would it not?

Bill E. Goat's Mistress (as in owner. Not the other kind. Except maybe in his dreams.)

Virginia Miss said...

I kept a list of phrases Miss Snark mentioned she never wanted to see in a query. Hmm, I wonder how many of these could fit into a 250-word hook?

journey of self disccovery

learning the truth

forgotten part of his childhood

shocking truth

the last bastion of freedom in a dark world

a web that threatens to destroy all that both hold dear

questions everything she believes to be true about herself

desperately hanging on to both ends

cloud her future forever

all's fair in love and war

tortured genius

love of the same woman

deadly secret

chilling fact

dark night of the soul

Her life hurtles on.

by some strange, cruel twist, fate

little did he know

comes back to haunt him

acd said...

hawkowl: I'm pretty sure Kathryn is talking about business jargon, the likes of which you see in professional emails and contracts. For some hilarious examples, listen to the song "Re: Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton. My copy of Elements of Style (1973?) also has some examples in the back section. Weasel words, like "effect a solution" or "a serious initiative toward improving efficiency." I'd list more, but I have to get up-to-date on my emails and have a face-to-face with my team and devise a methodology to finding a happy medium for our key issue.

Brady Westwater said...

Not totally on topic, but I highly recommend Martin Amis' THE WAR AGAINST CLICHES - a collection of his essays and reviews from 1971 - 2000, particularly if you can appreciate literary criticism as a blood sport.

HawkOwl said...

Hahaha. Thanks ACD. :) (I'm actually devising a methodology right now to synergise our core competencies with our suppliers'. Oddly, there's good money in that.)

Anonymous said...

This is some great advise Miss Snark. I am hoping to clean my query letter up to sound like something an agent would be interested in. I have been trying your XYZ approach and want to know if it sounds good. I know now that you don't do individual queries via e-mail. I also know that your advice is sage to many of the writers I have met through groups and heard from.

My biggest concern is the last paragraph of this query.

Could one of the most famous families of the twentieth century have been victims of a curse? Vaughn Lindbergh's great uncle thinks so. Vaughn is a private detective and a distant relation of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. His great uncle, Vincent Vaughn, believes the many tragedies that plagued the Lindberghs are the result of a family curse, which will eventually claim Vaughn, too. Using his professional skills, the detective sets out to either disprove the curse or break its hold.

Lydia Lyman is a project manager and design engineer who co-owns a company that builds aircraft. She also shares a blood connection with the Lindbergh family. When Vaughn tracks her down, she agrees to assist him. The two discover they have more in common than DNA and an unusual birthmark. Twenty-five years earlier, each was kidnapped and traumatized first by someone they recognized and then a second time by an unknown assailant. The incidents combined in their memories causing confusion and chaos to follow them via their memories. Those memories flare to life in the chaos that brings the two together once more.

Surrounded by members of the Lindbergh clan, the pair cannot tell whom they can trust. The discovery of an ancestor's journals puts them on the path to uncovering the answers they need. As their feelings for each other change from friendship to passion, their enemies decide that Lydia and Vaughn will become the next victims of
the "Unintentional Prophecy."

The antagonist is elusive, creating more danger for both Lydia and Vaughn along with the men used as scapegoats in the attempts on both Lydia and Vaughn’s lives when they were children. Those set on destruction would also ensure that the curiosity and drive to solve the “curse” bestowed by an ancient prophecy would in fact become reality for Vaughn and Lydia as well as their family. In the existence of Sally J. Byrd, a pseudonym used by Lydia, as well as a distant and long dead relative, lays the answer to all questions regarding their future, as well as their past.

Anonymous said...

poeticart169 - The Crapometer is over and Miss Snark will not be critiquing any more queries until the next one. However, you might try the spinoff Crapometer run by Miss Snark's readers at http://crapometer.blogspot.com .

EA Monroe said...

Bernita, more of your enlightening posts about the Crapometer should have made Miss Snark's blog! MS should hire you as her assistant!