Friday, November 19, 2010

Pet words

"Look at what?"
She looked irritated ...
One of my pet words is "looked" and one of my pet cliches is to say a character looked a certain way. I think that's telling, not showing. If she looked angry, what does that look like? Narrowed eyes, grit teeth? If the hero and heroine look into each other's eyes, what exactly are they doing? Do they see a stranger across a crowded room? Exchanging secret euchre signals so they won't be accused of talking across the card table?

I'm thinking probably all of us have a pet word or phrase that keeps popping up like lambs-quarter in my vegetable garden. For awhile one of the characters in a WIP "caught her breath" repeatedly until one of my crit partners commented that the character might hyperventilate.

In my case, I think my "looks" have to do with haste. Sometime in the future I will actually figure out what the characters looked like as they kept looking at each other.

What are some other pet words, phrases and short cuts? How do we weed them out?


  1. I use "just," "only," and "even" to a fault. I also use the "was ____ing" or "were ____ing" type of construction to a fault. And yes, my crit partner finds all my faults.


    I also have the tendency to have my characters catch their breath...and their pulses/hearts skip and/or stop repeatedly, I've noticed, as well. At this rate, I'm gonna need to start passing out (no pun intended) paper bags and nitroglycerin, depending on character...

    (sigh again)

    Notice the "gonna"? Yep. Another one. I'm going to...fill in the blank.

    (sigh for a third time)

    I'd better quit before this gets too depressing!


  2. I overuse compound sentences. And, and, and....

  3. I used to use "trusty" all the time, and didn't realize it until a critique partner pointed it out. My hero was relying on his "trusty bicycle," or escaping with his "trusty hat" pulled low over his eyes, etc., etc. Not sure how I missed those in revising, but so glad someone else caught them!

    Sincerely, your trusty friend,
    Rick Barry

  4. Unfortunately, my characters nod a lot. I have to go back and give them a different nonverbal response or they all seem like bobble-headed dolls. :)

  5. Avoidable THATs. . . is one of mine, overused both by myself and others. I've just checked -- the comments above mine don't have any "that's," but you have FOUR, Ann. HOWEVER, the good news is THAT (avoidable) only one of them is avoidable. . . :-)

  6. Hey, y'all, now I don't feel so bad.

    I guess I'm seeing the beauty of revising. All of our nodding, breath-catching characters will benefit from that. ;-)

  7. My characters have over active eyes, glancing, staring, looking, widening, and on and on.

    When I'm reading, I HATE the word "cacophony". It's so overused as is "plethora".