A single tear ran down her cheek when she looked at him walking across the room with that sexy smirk of his. He wore blue jeans, a green plaid shirt, blue argyle socks, and penny loafers. She thought to herself, despite his bad taste in clothing he looks as if he believes he is a fashion model.
If you just read that little gem (courtesy of the lovely, talented and wickedly funny Maggie Johnson) and thought hey, good story, where’s the rest?? you may not want to continue reading. *G* But if you read it and winced—even once—you’ve come to the right blog!
A few weeks ago, while reading a newly submitted manuscript I repeatedly came across a couple of words and phrases that had me ready to bang my head on my keyboard. It wasn’t just the repetitive nature of the writing that bothered me; it was the choice of words—they just so happen to be words that make me want to scream.
So I popped into the TWRP staff loop for a bit of water cooler chatter and asked a simple question “What’s your pet peeve word or phrase?”
I thought I’d get one or two answers but what happened next was nothing short of educational. Wow. These ladies may be roses but they are definitely not wall flowers—my inbox was deluged with responses from the funny to the irate.
Here, in their own words, are their responses (all very tongue in cheek).. I caution you though, there is power in these words—they may be tiny but alone or combined with others they have the power to Drive. Your. Editor. Crazy.
Spinning/Turning on her heel --I mean who really does that??? Ballerinas and figure skaters spin on their toes; I don't know anyone who spins on their heels LOL. I realize this is supposedly showing someone making a fast or angry exit --but it stopped being original about thirty years ago. Now it's just overused and cliché.
AT as in “this is where we’re at” or “where are you at?” I can’t believe how much this poor little word has fallen into such improper use. If you’re using it in dialogue to show a certain characteristic fine but otherwise…don’t do it. No really. Don’t!!!
And of course, my big bug-a-boo: "she thought to herself" (uhh, who else is she gonna think it to?) That one drives me crazy yet I hear it and read it over and over. And over! – Nic D’Arienzo
Mine is the word LOOK. To me, that is one of the vaguest words in the dictionary because it describes absolutely nothing.
I want a stronger verb Showing HOW or why. I often give four different scenarios to one sentence of She looked up, each showing a totally different emotion and thus proving that if you can replace look with that many scenarios, it isn't painting the picture needed in an often tense or emotional moment. – Stacy Holmes
mine is LOOKED--or glanced, or peered or stared or, well, you get the idea. I try to explain to authors that when in a specifi point of view, everything is what that person sees (or hears or tastes) so it's redundant to keep telling us they were looking at something. -Cindy Davis
One of my drives-me-crazy peeves is the dangling participial phrase thing. You know: Going outside, the heavy, warm air overwhelmed me. – Roseann Armstrong
THAT THAT THAT THAT... I just saw THAT 500 times in the last paragraph I was editing. But seriously how many times can you use the word in a story??? The same for THIS, and the over use of THE. And em-dashes. I just sent a story back where I highlighted those little buggers. Came up over 200 times in a 300 page story. - Lill Farrell
THAT. I am truly beginning to hate the word. Then there is the ever present OMG or LOL now. If you are actually using it in a “text” within the story, fine but otherwise…give it a rest. - Lori Graham
I had a MS last year that I sent back to the author to remove the THATs. He took out 1000. – Cindy Davis
I don't ask for THAT to be replaced anymore, not since I got the ms back with them all changed to WHICH. – Nan Swanson
When explaining it to authors, I phrase it as “putting your manuscript on a low-that diet” - Laura Kelly
THAT is definitely way over used. - Darlene Fredette
I've lately come to hate the word NOW. He washed his hands and now stood in the doorway. If he's in the doorway, it's happening now!
Also overused or incorrect use of ellipses and emdashes and verbs that tell:
Saw, Heard, Felt, Moved, Watched, Thought, Knew, Reached - Diana Carlile
My biggest one is "he/she knew." Ex. She knew the wind was blowing. Instead of the simple sentence. "The wind was blowing." (or something more vivid than that.) I explain to authors that if we are in the character's pov, the reader already knows it is what that character knew. - Allision Byers
Mine is "exit" as a verb. Blah, blaher and blahest. No color, no emotion. I blame CSI and advise my authors to use it only in police/military reports and stage/computer directions.
Another is "smirk." Way overused, and incorrectly. It isn't a straight synonym for "smile." Look it up.
"Drug" instead of "dragged." Argh. I'll accept it in regional dialect, but not in narration, unless the narration is also in dialect.
"Peek" instead of "poke." "The gun peeked out of his pocket." Oh really? And what did the gun see when it peeked out of his pocket? - Kinan Werdski
When our POV character is observing someone else and says, "She picked at an imaginary speck of dust (or thread, etc,) on her skirt." - How does our POV character know what the other character is imagining they are picking at?
And 'a single tear tracked down her cheek' - Maybe it's possible, but does anyone really cry out of only one eye? – Ally Robertson
I hate "wearing/wore." It's such obvious scene setting, and especially when the list of clothing goes into every tiny detail. Personally, boxer or briefs is something I'd rather remain a mystery...unless that's ALL they're wearing. – Maggie Johnson
One of my pet peeves is paused. She/he paused. "blah blah blah." If the character is going to pause they need to have a body action or do something other than just pause. I have an author who uses pause to death. - Johanna Melaragno
I had a project so full of exclamation points, by the time I removed them all, the ms was two pages shorter – Kinan Werdski
I’ve just been through a ms where everybody just does everything just right just about all the time. I just hate just now. Oh and add quite to my meaningless list.
I hate it when all the characters do is smile, giggle, grin or chuckle. Didn't realize the smirk was supposed to be an equivalent-Always thought what unpleasant people when there was a lot of smirking going on. – Anne Dugid
Walked and looked are at the top of my list, but my all time topper is the word (WAS). Yes it can be used but if a stronger verb can be used in its place...use it. When there are two or more (was, were) in a run it becomes jarring and confusing. – Cover artist Debbie Taylor
POV issues--inserting one character's thought or interpretation into the other character's paragraph. "as if" or "as though" are clues to this structure.
Jolene gazed upward, as if thinking of what to say next.
Thomas ran a hand over his face, feeling the rasp of his beard, and waited for her answer.
Placing more than one character's action/thought/dialogue in the same sentence or paragraph.
An author relaying emotion through one-word adverbs.
"she said abruptly" instead of "she snapped"
two-word dialogue tags that add nothing "he said" or "she asked." Better to use an action tag that shows the character doing something. – Leanne Morgena
And that’s it! Now keep in mind some of us have been doing this a long time, and maybe we get a little frustrated now and then. But at the end of the day we love our authors and want them to learn from our experiences. All the editors quoted here agreed to share their thoughts to help YOU become a better author.
Your homework now is to go back to the top and re-read Maggie's paragraph Anything jump out at you???
Happy Writing, everyone!