Few things bog down a manuscript the way pet phrases, repetition, unnecessary words, and clichés do. And sometimes you're too close to the manuscript to recognize them if you're not paying attention. (The picture is - I think - of a daisy. As in the cliché "fresh as a daisy." Get it? Okay, you know it's bad when you have to explain your own visuals...)
It seems like I have one or two for every manuscript I write. In this last one, my main character's stomach was constantly "churning," and everybody's eyebrows and mouths were "quirking up." There's nothing wrong with these descriptions, but they need to be used more sparingly than once a chapter.
I recently attempted to read a book that shall remain nameless. About half the things the characters said were either said "wryly" or "dryly." It made me crazy. And my husband too, because I started keeping a tally. When I finished a page, I would report, "2 wrylys and 1 dryly." After about 5 minutes of this, he requested that I please either put down the book or suffer in silence. I opted to put it down.
When you're doing edits, keep your eye out for your pet phrases.
This can include pet phrases, but it also involves words used too close together, similar words in the same sentence, or sentence structure.
Here's what I mean about sentence structure:
I flick the page of her math book. “That looks fun.”Macy scowls at the textbook. “I hate math.”I stretch across the floor and close my eyes. “I believe you’ve mentioned that.”
See how that's action then dialogue three times in a row? I pulled that from the manuscript I'm currently editing. Yeah, that's gonna have to be rearranged.
It also illustrates my words used too close together, since I'm not crazy about math book in that first line, then textbook and math in that second line.
Every writer has these - words that wind up in their sentences even though they're unnecessary. My big ones are:
Again, here's an example pulled from my current manuscript:
“Well, maybe this makes me weird, but sometimes I just think about that kind of thing. You know, my parents and Auburn’s dad have always expected us to take over the vineyard. And I just wonder… I don’t know. I just want a choice in it all, you know?”
I used just THREE times in that dialogue. THREE! Way too many. When I revise, my character will be allowed one.
"Something" is probably the strangest one on my list. I'm always tacking it on to the end of my character's sentence. It's something I do in real life, and I pass it on to my character's as well. It looks like this:
"You wanna go to the pool or something?""We could go to the coffee house or something.""It's like you're mad or something."
I cut a lot of "somethings" during my second draft.
I'll highlight one more from my list. "That" is a big one for many writers. I'm amazed by how many times I use it. Like twice in the sentence below:
“So you don’t have anything else that you want to do … you just want to know that you could do something.”
Both of those can be cut.
The most common one by far, I think, is a stomach being full of butterflies. Others I often see are character's deflating "like a balloon stuck with a pin," a character stopping in their tracks or turning into statues, air getting sucked out of the room, and silence being deafening. Also, comparisons to the movie Groundhog Day are pretty worn out, in my opinion.
Reading widely can really help you identify cliché phrases in your own writing. It helps you recognize what's fresh and what isn't. I'm guilty of using all those I've listed above, especially in first drafts.
What on this list do you struggle with the most? What are your pet phrases and words? What clichés make you crazy?