Monday, July 29, 2013

Words that Drive Your Editor Crazy

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!

41 comments:

Alana Lorens said...

Haha! I'm a "that" and "just" hoarder. I think I'm getting better though--when editors point out these things, it makes an impression on my inner author voice. I swear it does. :)

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Excellent post. I only winced three times...okay, four, but who's counting. As a reader, my pet peeves are "said tags." One can write an entire book without using a single one. Yes, it takes more work, but the read is so much smoother for it. Don't even get me started on slapping "she/he asked" after a ? had been used. A question mark only has one function. One. To indicate the previous string of words are a question. So why would you insult readers' intelligence by slapping on she/he asked afterward as if we're too dumb to know what that question mark indicates? I grit my teeth every time a writer does that. I feel like she or he is padding their word count with said tags. They are so, so unnecessary.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Oh, I know all too well how Stacy Holmes feels about the word "look". LOL I work harder to keep it out of my manuscripts these days because I *just* know she's going to bust me on it. "Just" is another one I work on getting rid of. :)

Thanks for the great post!!! (and a few extra !!!!!!!) for Kinan.

Debra St. John said...

Great post! These are great things to keep in mind while writing and especially during edits. My biggest problem on that list is 'that'. I always take out a million during edits.

For the homework...let's see: There's 'smirk', 'thought to herself' and she's crying out of a single eye!



DebraStJohn

Ashantay said...

Thank you for the instructive post.

Ally, I'm going to add a single tear sentence in the next book so that you can smirk. LOL

Anonymous said...

I don't think this is amusing at all. Actually it's pretty offensive and degrading to writers, mostly newbies.

And as for using the word 'at' as in, 'where you at?' that's modern day speech. It's not proper English, but it's REAL and brings a book alive. I don't know about others, but if I'm looking for an escapist read, I don't want stilted dialogue. Keeping it real to the way society speaks in this century is part of what makes a book shine. Considering the book is set in contemporary times of course.

So, what was obviously an attempt at humor just turned out to belittle others, and give extremely bad advice. As editors, you really should know better. I will not be submitting to TWRP in the future, and I'm certain there will be others like me after reading this.

You should be ashamed of yourselves for this post. I used to think TWRP were much more professional than this.

Joanne Stewart said...

All good to know. and I'm guilty of a lot of it. 'That' is a favorite word. And miss Vonnie has cured me of my need to use dialogue tags, but that's a new thing. It's a change in the way we write, because thirteen years ago, writers used them.

Some of that's not just word choice, though. -ly verbs, for example, are telling. So is "saw, heard, felt, thought."

I do think, however, that this post might have been better served if some of the complaints came with how to do it better. I'm not an English major, so I'm sure my manuscript is going to contain one, but I haven't a clue what's wrong with Roseann's sentence or what a dangling participle is. I think teaching is best served when you show the writer what they're doing wrong...and give them a hand UP by showing them how to do it better.

Most of this, while said in jest, could be better stated. I think it should have been pulled out of context and not quoted directly. We're human. Humans make mistakes. Show me a single person whose never done it wrong.

Lynn Kellan said...

"That" was a great post!!! *grin*

A writer buddy told me I'd never read a book the same way once I went through the editing process. She was right. Now I can't read a book without editing the mistakes I find.

Thankfully, I have a terrific editor. She has my deepest gratitude for teaching me how to write well - and for not losing her temper when I make the same mistakes over and over again. :)

I'm sharing this post with my fellow romance writers.

Brenda Whiteside said...

I pasted one of these at the top of chapter one on my current WIP to remind me to edit for it later. Whoops! Thanks!

Susan Macatee said...

LOL, Nicole!

My TWRP editor, Allison Byers, has cured me of most of my overused words. I now find myself self-editing as I write, but give it a real go-over before submitting. Often, you just don't see those things in your own work. You need it pointed out.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Winced, smiled and even smirked a few times. Great post, Maggie. So much to keep track of, huh?

Larry Hammersley said...

Nice post on words and phrases. I've read the comments made so far and I like Joanne Stewart's take on the post especially telling us how to do it in addition to pointing out the "pet peeves." Also, I've always read that saidisms are not to be tolerated. I may have gotten a mistaken notion on this post but it sounded like "she snapped," and other such renditons like "he shouted," would be okay. The writer can set the mood of a scene such that we already know the person is shouting and thus we can say "said." I've been avoiding saidisms and will continue to do so.

Caroline Clemmons said...

That's embarrassing. I saw a couple of things that made me blush. Great post and very helpful!

Rose Gorham said...

Excellent post. My latest novella made me aware of how I abuse the words, that and just. My apologies, Lori for not doing a better job of editing.

Kellie Kamryn said...

All great reminders! Sometimes we authors know the story and get stuck trying to describe something. I've made my list of "no-no's" to remember!

Molly said...

Ha! This is awesome. My TWRP editors have both told me, affectionately I'm sure, "You have an addiction to semicolons, you know." We all do have our habits. But posts like this will help me add more to my "weak words to hunt down and kill" list and improve future manuscripts!

Marie Tuhart said...

Great post. I'm guilty of using "that" and I always seem to come up with one word in every book I overuse and it's a new one every book. I'm so grateful for my editor, Trish, who kindly points it out. TWRP is the greatest.

Kim Hornsby said...

Great reminders! Now I'm afraid to comment in case I use all of those mistakes. 'Single tear' makes me laugh out loud.

GiniRifkin said...

YIKES, and thanks for another great post.

Still guilty of a few, but I'm proud to say,my editor has painstakingly cured me of many of these manuscript ills.

Thanks for your FAITH in me.

Gini Rifkin

Kelley said...

I have so many peeves it's sad... I cringed reading most of these, but I also laughed =)

Tanya Hanson said...

Sooooooo glad I read this, as I've got another pass through planned for the next ms. I'm sending Nic tomorrow.

I read a major author's latest hardback suspense ( I got it free in Atlanta) and am both horrified and amazed at how much of this appeared in a NYT best seller's book. I almost didn't finish it, but I gutted it out. Sheesh. Eight POV shifts in five pages, for one thing. And I didn't care a whit what they wore. I got it from the ranch setting. Grrrrrrrr. Great post today.

Mackenzie Crowne said...

I knew if I looked, I’d find something here important to look at, but now, that was just amazing and made a single tear run down my cheek.

*smirk* LOL

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

As writers we all have our issues, no matter where we are in the learning of our craft. Great post and a helpful list, ladies.

Nicole D'Arienzo said...

Thanks everyone for your support--as always anything I post is intended as very tongue in cheek and to make you laugh--and think just a little.

For those who took issue, it's unfortunate you feel that way but in no way were we talking about beginner authors. In fact, I saw some of these mistakes in my own writing and I've been at this 20+ years LOL.

kevin symmons said...

Great post. I not only am a TWRP writer I teach creative writing at the junior college level. All the points made are excellent and sadly too prevalent in aspiring writers. Thanks for sharing!

Brenda Gayle said...

Oh, oh. Is it too late to go back and re-read my latest submission?

Barbara said...

I've wiped my tears from laughing and crying and, like Brenda, want to redo that last submission. I do have a tendency toward em dashes and probably lots of these others, as well. In fact, I started the email with "Now that." Fortunately I discovered it in time :)

Thanks for giving us this great reminder.

Maddy said...

'Now' 'that' 'was' fun. Guilty on all counts. My edit / cut list is already four columns on an A4 sheet.

LaVerne Clark said...

What a fun and informative post! Thanks for getting the editors around the water-cooler and collating this. Fantastic advice! :)

Larry Hammersley said...

Hopefully, my post was not taken as raising issues. I certainly am guilty of most if not all of the peeves mentioned. I'm grateful for this post and need to be reminded of them often. My TWRP editor is doing an excellent job of keeping me controlled on such matters.

Linda LaRoque said...

There are plenty on that list I have to do a search for to make sure I haven't overused them.

Interesting post. One of my pet peeves is a character description with no action.

Rhonda Penders said...

This is a great blog with a lot of great information. I agree completely with what some of you mentioned in that you would like to learn more about what to do instead of these "pet peeves". With anything in life, everyone has an opinion. Our company is no different than anyone else. This is our policy or our "opinion" of how it should be done. Every writer needs to do what works for them but its helpful to know what won't work for us.

As for the poster who claimed our blog was unprofessional - I'm completely amazed that someone could say that when all we've ever done is help to "grow writers". This is simply another writing lesson. Every time you learn even one new thing you grow. You don't have to look at all these pet peeves and not do any of them to be a good writer but it is helpful if you see a bad habit in yourself in one of these and you correct it.

If you are submitting to us, knowing what an editor finds annoying certainly can help you.

No one ever told Harlequin they were unprofessional for things they may have done. No one would post on a blog to any of the big houses that they found this or that to be distasteful. There are enough publishing options out there these days that no one should be published or try to publish with a publishing house that doesn't fit with what they want to do.

I will also add that I completely respect different opinions and welcome comments good and bad. We learn from that as well.

Brenda Jean Hyde said...

I know I'm guilty of some of these pet peeves, but happily I can say I DO know the meaning of the word "smirk" because my husband has it down pat.

I've been writing nonfiction for over 20 years and I'm still working on some of these pet peeves. The word "that" is a biggie for me.

Mary Marvella said...

I agree with the pet peeves because they weaken the impact and can confuse your reader.

Dangling participles can be avoided. Think about whether your sentence makes sense. Flying across fields, we counted houses. Or We counted houses flying across fields. Any idea which one makes no sense? Flying houses frighten me.

Count your uses of was and change hald of them. Then change half of those remaining.

It was raining so hard she couldn't see to drive. Meh telling.

Rain poured/cascaded/(pick a good verb) down her windshield, obscuring her vision. (or so hard she could barely see taillights ahead of her.

When I edit for myself or others I look for ways to strengthen impact.

He was angry or he slammed his fist through the wall? Chose.

Mary Marvella said...

The pervious one should say choose. I am using someone else's computer and can't type worth a crap.

Joanna Aislinn said...

I'm adding one. Sorry if it's a repeat, but didn't have time to read all the comments. (Have to get to my mom at the hospital.)

Okay: taking a verb and making a noun put of it. ( I.e., I liked her share, vs. she shared the details).

'Nuff said.

Liz Flaherty said...

Unlike Vonnie, I'm not admitting how many times I winced, but I will JUST offer a blanket apology to Allison and Maggie THAT I truly mean, not that I do any of those things...ever.

Karen lee Hallam said...

I was shocked at how much I used the word "look" in my MS. Good thing there's a word finder tool.

fadeblakk said...

Some of this is really good advice, overuse of 'that', using stronger verbs, but some of this is just nit-picking. "I've never seen anyone spin on their heels?" Really?

"The gun peeked over the pocket." Really? This is one that I really don't get. Authors have been assigning human attributes to inanimate objects for hundreds of years. Now all of a sudden it's this big 'no-no' when a writer says, "Her eyes followed him up the stairs." Automatically someone has to read that and say, "But I'm picturing the characters being chased up the stairs by two floating eyeballs, while the owner of the eyes remains downstairs with two empty eye sockets!!!" Yeah right. If a person can't discern what the author is saying with that type of sentence, they are probably missing some really important brain cells.

Seriously, sometimes this 'advice' can be more detrimental than helpful. You end up contradicting the very purpose of writing---to push boundaries and be original. Instead you chastise and mock the slightest deviation as some sort of ungodly abomination. Tightening a manuscript should begin with taking a serious look at serious issues that are hampering the writing, not nitpicking the fact that one tear rolled down the cheek. Water can pool in both eyes, with one eye producing a tear before the other one.. (yeah, I've actually SEEN it). Or maybe it's the angle of the head... maybe the character blinked and in one eye, it caused the pooled moisture to leak out. Whatever the case, to act like you've NEVER seen a face with one lone tear trailing over the cheek while the other eye is just watery, is ridiculous.

I'm sorry, but little 'pet-peevy', 'nitpicky', annoyances shouldn't be included with a serious discussion about tackling major editing issues. If you really want authors to stop driving you crazy, stop driving them crazy with trivial preferences. If a writer's piece isn't working, it probably isn't because a character spun around on their heels. They're probably using too much passive voice, too many weak verbs, too many adverbs, too many 'that's or suffering from a weak conflict, poorly defined characters, flat dialogue or any other number of REAL issues.

Nana said...

Dang it! I wish I could go back and rewrite my self published book.

bibby bop said...

to peek - to be partially visible

to poke- to jab, push or thrust
I'd say that technically a gun is more likely to peek than poke out of a pocket.

some of these I get, because simply put they are overused clichés, ie single tear (yes happens all the time, but in lit totally a tired image).

But others are reaching.. guns peek, both literally and figuratively.. we are writing fiction here, personification is an extremely common and accepted tool.

and a sentence with an overuse of 'the' or 'was'.. you'll have to give me one and explain to me why if the ms is rife with them you aren't simply sending them back to school.

Calisa Rhose said...

I can spot all of this in someone else's but when it comes to my own work, I head to Pro Writer Aid or Edit Minion to weed the bad stuff out. Thanks ladies!