Writing Exercise: Taboos and Cliches

There are subjects, plots, story models, story twists, and so on that have been so completely and utterly overused that most editors won’t touch them with a proverbial 10-foot pole. There are subjects that editors don’t want to see for other reasons — taste, controversy, and so on. You can find most of these things on some editor or another’s list of “taboo subjects” for their publication or publishing house. Pick one of those cliches or taboo subject and use it. Brainstorm how you can make it new again or how you can present it in an appealing and interesting manner. How would you have to change it or muck with it? How do you have to twist it?


  • #7a. Go back to one of the reviews you wrote in warm-up #1, or some book that you thought was trite and hackneyed. How would you take the same or a similar basic concept and do it right?
  • #7b. Pick a subject or topic that everyone has written about. If you aren’t sure how popular your topic is, go to an on-line bookstore and search for it. If you get several hundred hits you’re probably on the right track. Try to find a fresh new way to write about the topic.
  • #7c. This time, pick a topic from one of those taboo lists in the market listings you were looking through in warm-up #6.
  • #7d. Pick a subject that is a cultural taboo for your culture and write about it. Work it into a story or write an article.
  • #7e. Pick a subject that is a cultural taboo for someone else’s culture and write about it.
  • #7f. Pick an actual cliche or saying and try to get something useful out of it. Use it in an unusual way, subvert it in an interesting manner, or brainstorm and free associate off of it to help you think of something interesting.
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