Friday, August 15, 2014

Rae's Top 6 Petty Pet Peeves

I'm picky pertaining to the prose I peruse. Pursuant to my particular preferences, I ponder preferable phrasings pretty much perpetually.

To get away from the alliteration, these are the things I rewrite in my head, that I wish authors would stop doing:

6. "Synonyms" for Eyes

The reason "synonyms" is in scare quotes there is that most of the time they're not synonyms. If I never see the word "orbs" used to refer to eyes again, it will be too soon. And don't get me started on "hues," which I see far too often. There's nothing wrong with "eyes."

Related, I also have issues with flowery terms for colors. I like them once. Just once. I've seen "whiskey" used to refer to brown eyes. It's pretty. It conveys a particular shade. That's good. Using it every time you want to refer to the character's eyes is repetitive and grating.

5. "He thought"/"She saw"

There is no reason to put this or any other variation at the beginning of a sentence. Ninety-eight times out of a hundred you could get away with dropping it entirely. The remaining two are in very particular cases, and odds are yours isn't one of them. Say your sentences out loud. Say them with and without the first words. If need be, replaced "then he/she/I remembered" with "that reminded him/her/me that" and it'll work out just fine.

To go along with that...

4. "Quickly"/"Then"/"Suddenly"

Again, this really just weakens your sentence. I read once that there is no word less quick than quickly, no word less sudden than suddenly. It's unnecessary, it's cliche, and your reader will read your sudden development less suddenly because there's that extra word.

3. Clothing Descriptions

I really, really hate clothing descriptions. As far as I'm concerned there are only two times you need clothing descriptions:

  1. Introducing the character, if and only if their clothing indicates something significant about their character.
  2. If they are wearing something counter to their character and it sets off a reaction in your narrator.
Other than that, I really don't need to know what new cute dress your heroine is wearing, or what brand your villain's suit is. I don't care, and you're wasting precious words and bogging down your pacing to tell me this stuff instead of getting to the meat of the scene.

2. Purple in Place of Precise

I was once asked to critique someone's writing and I told them it sounded like they were trying to be clever. They got very annoyed and said that they weren't, that it was all to do with their character having a vast vocabulary. Well, here's the thing:

If I wished to demonstrate a vast vocabulary, rather than employing words that the thesaurus claims to be synonyms but that I myself have little or no familiarity with, I would endeavor to use those words which I know with certainty to mean what I wish while still conveying my message with more precision than more common words might achieve.

If I wanted to be purple, I would swirl my pen over the words, lovingly caress each sentence, pour my blood and tears into the words and let them sing.

Don't use words you're uncertain of when you want to be precise. Use words you know for a fact. Otherwise you will come off looking like you're trying to be clever and writerly and falling far short.

1. Funetik Aksents

In the book I'm reading, the author made the executive decision to write a New Orleans accent phonetically. Like the eyes peeve, this was fine the first time. The narrator said it normally, then translated it into the accent to indicate that the man was from NO. But then he continued to write everything the character said phonetically.

Please, please don't do this. It slows down your reader, it makes you hard to understand, you look like you're trying to be clever and you end up looking like a kid who's just learning to write. A much more effective way is to get the idioms right. When I write a character from the UK or Ireland, I won't spell things phonetically, but I will say "cock up" instead of "mess up" or "screw up," "daft" instead of "stupid," "wanker" instead of "son of a bitch," "mum" instead of "mom," use "pants" and "jumper" and "trainer" for their meanings in that area, etc. If I'm writing a Southerner, I will write "y'all," but I will not drop the "g" in verbs, and I will also add such phrases as "might could." New Yorkers will say "on line" instead of "in line." Essentially, learn the idioms of the accent, not the sound. Your reader will catch on to the accent just as quickly without having to slow down.

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