Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pet words and phrases:

Most authors seem to have them. Some people aren't bothered by them and think of them as the author's fingerprints. Some people are. I'm reading a novel right now in which the words: “spidery” and “spidered” are used way too much.

Don't get me wrong, the occasional use of these words in snippets of description is brilliant and wonderful and gives me images and feelings from the book that I couldn't have gotten any other way. But after awhile it becomes less brilliant and seems more lazy than anything else.

I LOVE this book though. It's wonderful. It's one of the best books I've ever read. (And yes, I realize now that almost EVERY book I read ends up being “One of the best books I've ever read.”) And yet, when she uses this pet word/variation over and over, it takes me out of the novel a bit.

It reminds me I'm just reading a story and the writer is just a mere mortal just like me. On the one hand such things make the author seem more human. But on the other hand sometimes I wonder, can the writer not see they are doing this?

Usually by the second or third read I can catch most of my pet words. I like to use the words: “Bizzarre” and “Clearly” a lot. Actually I'm way too in love with adverbs to begin with and once I murder those, the writing is much stronger. A lot of -ly words in a book just scream tentative.

Certain phrases that are pets of mine are: “Hurt like hell” (even though it's a total cliché to begin with). OH! And “slumped unconscious.” I found that a lot of characters had a habit of “slumping unconscious.” The poor souls.

So I go through and I edit and change etc. So that the ONE time someone “slumps unconscious” it's not totally stupid. And the one or very few times someone uses the word “bizarre” it actually carries some impact.

I also seem to like the words: “creepy” and “evil” a lot. And I'm having more trouble letting go of some instances of those because in some sense it's a “style/voice” thing. But in another sense I feel like if I don't take care of this stuff now, it will be my “spidered” and “spidery.” That thing that reminds readers I'm only mortal. A wonderful and endearing quality AFTER finishing a book. Maybe not so much during.

But maybe I'm being too hard on myself and others. It just seems to me that given all the millions of word combinations out there that to continue to use the same pet words and phrases over and over is a sign of laziness and I feel we owe readers more than that. And maybe the author doesn't even see it. Maybe they're too close to it. Perhaps I have other pet words and phrases that I don't even catch. But surely this is what critique readers are for. Yes?

At least it's not as bad as “pet metaphors.” Pet metaphors are much much worse. It's my opinion that you can use a truly descriptive metaphor ONE time, no matter how much you love it. To use it over and over makes it look like either, you can't come up with something else, or you're way too in love with your words in that instance.

Comments? What are your pet words and phrases? And how do you get rid of them?


Liz Kreger said...

Oooo, pet words? It's been pointed out to me by my crit partners that I overdo a lot of words and that I should go on a search and destroy mission. LOL.

Let's see ... "creeped out" is one of my favorites. I use "in fact" alot and "ultimately". Getting out of that habit.

Phrases that bug me by other authors is "as if it was" and then describe what it is. Draws me right out.

I also used to use lots of adverbs. Gotta watch those.

Edie said...

I use "oh God" and "oh shit" too much. Also, smile. My characters smile and laugh a lot. I've deleted many, many smiles. From the dialogue, the reader can figure the character is smiling. I hope. My CPs haven't caught me on it yet. :)

Zoe Winters said...

hehehe Liz, I do "creeped out" also sometimes. And wow it look so much better when I take out most of the adverbs.

Edie, I use "oh god" way too much too lol. Now i'm down to just one or two of them.

Michelle said...

I just . . . I don't know . . .just kind of use just a bit too much. I'm sure you know just what I'm talking about. LOLOL.
Now I finish a book and search for just and unless it is CRITICAL to making sense I press delete.

Zoe Winters said...

hmmmm. Michelle I'm just not sure that i know just what you're talking about.

Could you just spell it out a little bit more clearly because we all just want to understand you.


Cynthia Eden said...

"Really" is my overused one--and "hell"--oh, I use hell so much (especially in my current WIP).

Zoe Winters said...

hehe Cynthia, i probably use "hell" too much.