Janet here. I have a list of bugaboos that I believe clutter the page or distract the reader. Overdone they’re as annoying as chatty moviegoers.
I must admit I’ve done them all. Nothing is more annoying than annoying oneself. LOL
I look for these things and kill them, either by revising or by hitting the delete key. Here’s my list.
- Redundancy. Saying the same thing over and over. I'm guilty of this. Perhaps because I'm an expert at rehashing stuff that bothers me, I give that trait to my characters.
- Redundancy. Sorry, I couldn't resist.
"There was an ominous stillness pervading the room." is easily changed to "An ominous stillness pervaded the room."
• Undefined “it” when the meaning isn't clear.
He edged into the dark woods. It was scary.
Ignore that this sentence is telling. What was scary? The woods? The dark? The night sounds? Replace generic “it” with rich details that illicit emotion and clarify events.
• Starting sentences with “and” and “but” for no reason. I do this all the time. Easy fix. Kill em.
• Characters traipsing onstage without description. One sentence or even a phrase describing them through the point of view character’s eyes may be all I need to give them life.
• Characters describing themselves. These people are too stupid to live. Shape them up. If that fails, kill them.
• Scenes beginning like dated journals. Start with a hook and let the story ground readers in place and time.
• Characters that don’t react to events and dialogue. Unless the lack of response is a plot device, story people should react. True, real people often don't, but I find that annoying too.
• Relying on "pet" body parts or senses instead of writing fresh reactions. The Find feature will reveal overuse of guts, eyes or smiles. I’m tempted to blame this tendency of mine on my characters, but Ruthy won’t let me get away with such nonsense.
• Sentences starting with “after” and “when”. Unless you need to show a lapse of time, stay in the moment.
• “Walking the dog” A term I've heard used for mundane actions or details that slow the pace and don’t forward the plot. The hero gets up, dresses, eats his breakfast and drives to work. If I'm falling asleep at the computer, I'm guilty of this.
• Characters sitting and thinking. Rodin's The Thinker is art but I wouldn't want this guy in my book. Characters should act. Working toward their goals all the time. Use what they’re doing--their actions--and where they’re doing it--the setting--to elicit emotion in the reader.
• Overuse of the same sentence structure. Instead of starting sentences with a name or pronoun, begin with a phrase that adds description.
Tightening her grip on the milk pail, Callie trudged toward the small barn at the back of the property.
I tend to overdo "ing" construction. To reword:
With a tight grip on the milk pail, Callie trudged toward the small barn at the back of the property.
The phrase should attach to the subject of the sentence. Don't make the mistake I sometimes do and attach the phrase to an inappropriate noun.
Ex. Riding in the car, the view was breathtaking.
This sounds like the view is riding inside the car.
Riding in the car, she marveled at the breathtaking view.
Or without "ing" construction--The view outside the car windows left her breathless. My examples are pathetic but hopefully make the point.
• Using unnecessary words like “just” and “that” or qualifiers like “very, a bit, rather”. Avoid using “so” as a qualifier. Ex. The design is so pretty. The design is fabulous.
• Misused words. Using “anxious” for “eager” is one that bugs me.
If all these things bother me, why do I find oodles of them in my manuscripts?
• Overusing descriptions and reactions is far easier than writing fresh.
• Since we see and hear these bugaboos in everyday life, we use them unconsciously.
• Using them is an ingrained habit. Even when you try to kill them, habits die hard.
• Hopefully I find them in the draft stage not in the published book. The draft stage is spewing words on the page. Kill bugaboos during revisions.
Not everyone is bugged by the things on my list. None of these things will destroy fabulous characters and a wonderful story. Still, I've lost a star in reviews now and again because a reader tired of the overuse of a physical reaction or redundancy that escaped me.
What makes you cringe like a fingernail scraping across a chalkboard?
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