Lady Macbeth Cocks an Eyebrow

This comment by Marianne Schaefer Trench posted at The Daily Beast caught my eye and forced me to arch a curious eyebrow of my own. 🤨

The Raised Eyebrow Is the Lazy Writer’s Favorite Cliché

You rarely see a raised eyebrow in real life, but in fiction they are rising, knitting, and furrowing everywhere, or at least if you’re looking at truly crappy novels and stories.

images.jpgI have developed a severe allergy to hyperactive eyebrows in fiction. They have become writers’ go-to lazy shorthand for pretty much any emotion. In novels, eyebrows do all kinds of things. Most commonly they “rise.” Sometimes a single eyebrow rises all by itself, but often both eyebrows rise in unison. Slightly more creative writers make the eyebrows “knit” or “furrow” or “hike” or “tighten” or “pinch” or “wiggle”—or any other verb that might describe a mobile eyebrow (or two).

I like to read fantasy and science fiction novels. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find quality writing in these genres. But this might be short-sightedness on my part. As the American science fiction writer and critic Theodore Sturgeon pointed out, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” The statement is so indisputable that it has come to be known as Sturgeon’s Law. Regardless of the actual universal crap ratio, I’m reading too many crappy books with too many moving eyebrows.

Trench goes into further detail and even exposes another valuable use of digital books, so make sure you read the full article at The Daily Beast.

This is an interesting two-hour topic to be pondered,  discussed, and eventually ignored for a minimum of nine months:

What triggers (expressions, images, plot elements)
do you consider Red Flags suggesting that you are
reading a lazy writer or hack fiction in general?

I was in a reading group for some time that insisted that a writer describing “dogs barking in the distance” was, if not a hack, at least suspect of being lazy and prone to clichĂ©s. The raised eyebrow is another good one, and if you read erotica it is replete with lazy writing and laughable clichĂ©s. And let’s not forget the double-clichĂ©: the butler did it!

But isn’t that a characteristic of most genre fiction? In fact, doesn’t some genre fiction suffer if most of the clichĂ©d elements are not included in the novel?  Should one measurement of how literary a novel is be the presence or reliance on clichĂ©s such as raised eyebrows or barking dogs?

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