Monday, August 19, 2013

Tips from the "Queen of Clichés"

If you have ever written any of these three things—oops! Sorry, there are four—please know I will catch you if I can. I may be the Queen of Clichés, but I still wield a pretty mean wet noodle. I have seen them misused so often in the galleys I process that I now check for them regularly.
He sunk into a chair.
Thunder rolled and lightening flashed.
It’s alright as long as you do it with flare.
No. these are not all right, no matter how you do them.
Let’s work in backwards order. “Flair” is the spelling you want in the third sentence above. For a character to do something with flare might indicate you have a firebug on your hands. And while we’re on the subject, how often do you use the word “flare”? Don’t avoid this question! I have seen it more than a dozen times in one book…his nostrils flared, her temper flared, his lust flared, her skirt flared, his passion flared, her nostrils flared, his anger flared, her eyes flared, etc. etc. etc. It’s a wonder it all fits in and doesn’t combust, with so much flaring going on.
“Alright” has not yet received official acceptance as a replacement for “all right.” The two-word version is still preferred. Like it or lump it. That’s all I will say about that.
And “sink, sank, have or has sunk” has been burned into my brain since sixth grade: Today I sink, yesterday I sank, and before that I had sunk” whether into a chair, a slough of despond, or beneath the waves of the ocean. It’s like “swim, swam, have or has swum” and “sing, sang, have or has sung”—Yesterday I sang and swam and sank into bed happy.
As for thunder and—What is it that flashes and then you hear the rumble? Oh, yes. Lightning. No “e” in the whole word. None. Non-e. Of course there is a word “lightening,” but it’s related to the idea of making things lighter or more clear: “Here, let me lighten your load,” or “Let me enlighten you.”
While I’ve got you by the ear, so to speak, let me mention just one more thing, on the editing/reading side of my life: How weary I am of reading the same phrases time after time in almost every book when we get to the more passionate scenes. Is there truly no other way to describe them? Does everyone have exactly the same moves? Maybe I missed the memo that said, “This is it. Use these descriptive words whenever your characters are getting it on.” Fingers and tongues “tangle” and “trace” and “tease…” I usually quit reading by then, from sheer boredom, and pick up again after they have gone “over the edge.” In processing galleys I also check for “peak” (frequently found in said love scenes) vs. “peek” and find them often overused and/or misused and occasionally substituted for “pique.” My high school English teacher used to groan over the song lyrics of her youth rhyming “spoon” and “moon” and “June” and “croon.” Now I know why. Suffice it to say there must be descriptive words in the dictionary that would give your writing more individuality and flair rather than sounding like you copied the scene out of the last romance you read and merely substituted your characters’ names.

My apologies if the above sounds harsh. But remember—I don’t deal with nearly as many books per week as those readers who go through at least five books a week, some as many as twenty-five or more per week, so they say. Do you think they will not notice these things? Do you think they won’t take note of your name and figure they’ll look for an author with more variety in her vocabulary? Keep a dictionary and a thesaurus handy and try using one new word per book. Too much to ask?

Nancy Swanson- Editor
The Wild Rose Press

1 comment:

JACLYN said...

Marvelous. I enjoyed your excellent article on cliches.

Got a kick out of alright to all right and lightning.

While critiquing someones' chapter it is surprising how many times I have come across these words.

Hope you don't mind but I am saving your article to use everytime I have to explain the why and why not in using them. :-)

Jaclyn Di Bona