Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is Your Writing Tic?

It's been a great and wildly busy week in New York thus far! Thankfully the heat has taken some mercy on my San Francisco-acclimated self, and it's cooled off dramatically. And not a moment too soon: I was in serious danger of melting.

Now then. We all have bad writing habits and little tics that creep into our writing. Whether it's overuse of certain gestures (eye-rolling, sighing, etc.), phrases (I mean, like, now then, etc.), or lines of dialogue ("No way," "Yes way," etc.)

I must confess that my writerly tic is characters looking at things (Jacob saw, Jacob looked at, etc.). It ends up being a little redundant and I have to watch myself.

What's yours?






254 comments:

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Kathy said...

People blushing /flushing /heating up/ turning red. Somehow it seems to happen to *all* of my characters.

Also, using the word "just."

Victoria Schwab said...

Apparently "peel" (as in "She peeled herself away) and "tipped his chin up" are my two tics, according to my editor :p

IsaiahC said...

I ran a word cloud on my book after the first draft and discovered that, apparently, my characters turn at dizzying rates. He turned, she turned, they spun, etc. I should have some of them fall over, that would be fun.

Kendra Leigh Patterson said...

My characters are forever staring at nothing or not answering. And sometimes at the same time! As in "I stared at nothing, not answering." Or sometimes I mix it up: "I didn't answer. Instead I stared at nothing." Ugh.

nkrell said...

Mine would be 'stomach' issues, be they lurching, rolling, twisting, etc.

Noelle Pierce said...

Oh, God. Looking, smiling, eye rolling. And the word "but." *hangs head*

Lindsay said...

I think I take the "avoid adverbs" rule a little too far and end up with a plethora of weird verbs.

Amy said...

Blushing, definitely blushing. And shaking. People shake all the time in my books. They also bite their tongues a lot.

Hm. Reading over this, I'd venture to guess fragments are an issue for me too. :-)

Carole said...

THAT is the question. I can't think of anything THAT I use THAT often THAT I could cut out. THAT never happens to me. THAT is just so silly THAT people THAT write would overuse a word THAT would cause a tic.

Michael Pickett said...

Over explanation of physical movement. This includes looking, seeing, turning, waving, smiling, etc. I have to keep telling myself that the dialogue will imply most of these things and that I can trust the reader to pick up on the character's mood.

Ann Elise said...

Hmm, too many to count. Let's see: saying things in overly complicated and roundabout ways, using the words 'scowled', 'grimaced' and 'sighed', disturbing lameness whenever people are going to kiss, having characters who sleep badly. I could go on, but I'm already feeling antsy from working out some of my stuff reads like 'Twilight'. I don't need to upset myself further.

Creepy Query Girl said...

In the beginning, I used too many reflexive pronouns. Everyone was always 'finding themselves', 'feeling themselves', 'taking themselves' or even 'finding themselves feeling' It sounded like some kind of orgy.

Jenn Marie said...

Everybody smiles in my book. All the time. For lots of different reasons. In lots of different ways. Constantly.

They also do a lot of looking and turning, I must say, and if they're not doing any of those things, they're probably sighing or shuddering.

Delia said...

Looking, turning, and raising eyebrows are my major ones, but there are always tons more that show up in edits.

Sabrina said...

I think I have the "looking at things" tic too. That, and my characters seem to do a lot of "walking" through the doorway/into the office, etc.

Hilary said...

He said/she said tags. Also people smiling. Everyone knows no one is happy in serious literature.

jtb said...

Then

Then she said ...
he said ... then ...
Later, he walked over to the exit, stood, looked back then ....

( ... save me)

John Jack said...

Serial lists that serve to blunt impact for their length or imply uncertainty from a reluctance to select a single choice. And too frequent prepositional usage of of. And absolute and comparative adverbs: never, always, worst, most, least, ever, every; more, less, sometimes . . .

writermorris said...

My characters smile more than normal human beings ever would. Seems from the comments, though, that this is something of an epidemic.

They also seem to express every emotion in their breathing... hitching, holding, shallowing, quickening. Even I get annoyed at their respiratory issues.

Danielle La Paglia said...

I seem to have started over half the conversations in my ms with some variation of "Are you okay?" and I have to admit to over-using the eye-roll.

Milo James Fowler said...

Too many prepositions at times, too many adverbs at others. My stuff has been dubbed "wordy", so I'm learning to cut, cut, cut.

Red Boot Pearl said...

the word 'just'--I use it all the time just to get my point across :) I searched this in my wip and got rid of 458 words... sheesh that's a lot of 'just'.

Nick said...

Varies specifically what but I tend to have characters do little things. If a character smokes he lights a cigarette way too often. Sometimes he'll tuck his hands in his pockets and a few lines later fold his arms across his chest. I mean, sure, the latter scenario does happen sometimes, but oi. I just kind of fill space with little things.

Thomas Taylor said...

Mine is using the word seems when something really is.

Remus said...

"Actions during dialogue," I said, shrugging my shoulders. "I can't get away from having my characters do things while they're talking." I scratched my chin and shook my head. "It's terrible. If I'm not careful..." I looked around the room to see how many people were listening. "...then my dialogue paragraphs end up with more actions in them than spoken words. At least I know I have the problem."

Sandra said...

I'm going to have to print this out for use when I edit my writing... I do ALL of these tics. Two additional ones: 'Don't go there' turns up with appalling frequently, and "Don't think".

Richard Gibson said...

Overusing "of". I even blogged about it: http://richardgibsonwriter.blogspot.com/2010/02/my-battle-with-of.html

Graham Bradley said...

Look, turn, jaw-dropped, threw, thrust...mostly action words. I should get a thesaurus.

Nancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mimmp said...

Too many details, as in: "her beloved 1965 turquoise Mercury Comet with the cracked tail light from the time Eddie bashed it with his foot." I leave a trail of unnecessary details that become confusing for the reader.

taylweaver said...

I've been revising a novel I'm working on, and I don't know if these are specific to the novel, or general to my writing, but I've been chopping out a lot of, "It seemed like," "I heard myself say," "As for me/her/him." "suddenly," "all of a sudden," "all at once," and "I realized."

On the plus side, knowing this has been really useful for reducing my word count, and that is probably a good thing.

The down side: I started to see these patterns 200 pages in, and now need to go back to the beginning and find all the ones I missed.

Alyson said...

My characters smile. Even in a super dark novel, I had to take out about 20 smiles. I have no idea what everyone was smiling about!

rhubarbruby said...

Word clouds are BRILLIANT at figuring out writing tics (or crutch words as I call them). I blog about how you can do a word cloud and figure out your writing tics at http://rhubarbruby.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/what-are-your-crutch-words/

Mine are 'looked' and 'eyes'... plus a few 'turned' added in for measure too.

Liberty Speidel said...

Oh, dear, I have so many, I hate to admit it! :)

Probably my biggest one is my characters smiling, whether it's with glee, happiness, or a sad smile. After that, it's probably 'that' and adverbs.

ryan field said...

"Started to," is one, along with "looked at."

And "crossed" instead of "walked."

Justin W. Parente said...

I am with Thomas Taylor on this one: my tic is the word "seems" when something is. I am slowly breaking out of it.

My most overly used words: "just, instead, then."

Also, the mechanic string of "Blah, blah and blah."

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Weakening words, those uncertain little buggers. Seems to, seemingly, slightly, kind of, a little, a bit, for a moment, etc. They all have their place, of course, but you don't want them taking over the garden. Three cheers for pruning shears.

Diana said...

Many thanks to IsaiahC for the word cloud idea. Never thought of using it to check for repeated words, but boy did I learn a lot when I just did it!

I've known for years I have to watch for certain words (the dreaded "was" is high on that list). What I didn't expect to find when I ran all 14 of my published books was the names of the characters so prominantly figured. I've always known my works were character-driven -- now I have proof!

I was surprised to discover, however, that the hero's name figured larger than the heroine's (I write erotic romance, so there are usually only two main characters). The word that totally surprised me however, was "back". It's on every single Wordle I ran and oftentimes second only to the character's names. Methinks I need to find a new word! "Hand" and "time" also show up often.

Nathan, thanks for the question, Isaiah, thanks for the idea!

Katt said...

smiles. way too many smiles.

Krista V. said...

"Just." I always thought I had a "just" problem, but Wordle just confirmed it:)

John Jack said...

Unnecessary perfect tenses, future, present, and past, especially the to have species.

Makepeace would have to have had to have his way at the conference table.

Unnecessarily negated terms.

He hadn't--didn't, wouldn't, couldn't have--enough time remaining to disprove the council's point.

buildingalife said...

she headed. no one walks in my writing, they all head.

Jen J. Danna said...

For me, it is definitely the overuse of the word 'but'. I didn't even see the issue, but apparently it drove at least one of my team of critique readers practically around the bend. Once I realized what I was doing, I whacked a huge number of them out on the re-edit. Now I keep my eyes open for that bad habit. Knowing you do it is more than half the battle!

Stacy McKitrick said...

Of course, I use the phrase "Of course" too often. I have to really watch out for that.

Brittany said...

Mine is the MC's heart pounding and the MC looking at things. I thought I was the only one who said "looked" too much!

Natalie Whipple said...

A certain MS I barely finished editing still had 308 occurrences of "just." After about 15 drafts.

That was an average of MORE THAN ONE A PAGE.

It's down to 130 now.

ElegantSnobbery said...

After reading through everyone's comments, I think I'll have to go with D, all of the above!

Rebecca said...

My male characters are serial chucklers. They also tend to growl and snarl when they're angry. This is a problem for those who don't actually turn into animals.

Tessa Quin said...

The same as yours. I have a list of synonyms for "look", and always end up deleting at least half of the "looking" when I'm editing my manuscripts.

Tessa Quin said...

And "eyes"! There are a lot of eye-related stuff I always have to fix.

Courtney said...

Lip biting and scowling, but not at the same time. It's almost a universal tick in my writing if I don't watch myself.

lora96 said...

Well, my tic as a writer is beginning lines of dialogue with the know-it-all-ish "Well,". :)

Cheryl Barker said...

The word "just" just keeps sneaking in :)

cheekychook said...

In the first rewrite I couldn't help but notice that my characters JUST seemed to be SO everything....and they were always HEADED somewhere. They've settled down now. Wonder what I'll notice in the next round of edits....

Phyllis said...

I've got but issues, too. It seems I need to point out how things are not before I can tell what happens.

For the next edit, I decided to replace all buts with caboose, and let it stand if I read over it.

Phyllis said...

Also fragments.

Fredrick Chiagozie Nwonwu said...

I noticed that descriptions of the sun's phase kept turning up in my stories. It is so bad that most chapters of my novel in progress starts with wherever the sun was in the sky, or how it was affecting the environment or a character at that moment. and if its night, then the stars and moon go on to do just the same.

Jill Wheeler said...

"just" and "look"

Jessie said...

Glancing. My characters glance at each other a lot. And they widen their eyes far too often.

Melody said...

turned...whirled...
She turned around. She whirled around. Always.

Reena Jacobs said...

I tend to overuse pronouns (it, that, she, he) and would and could. I also have a bad habit of avoiding the word "was" and "were" to the point some of my sentences stop making sense. :) I used to make it again to see how many pages I could go without using "to be" verbs. Now I'm going back to the sentences flow more smoothly.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Hmm... I'll take one of those, and one of those, and yep, I think one of those, too. Yes, I do it all probably. Just add everyone else's to my list of annoying writerly traits.

But, more seriously, I think I use 'he smiled' A LOT. (and sometimes 'he laughed' or 'she smiled')

Everyone is always smiling at each other in my book. What drama!

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

There are a couple of tics I can readily identify. I tend to overuse facial expressions, ie., "Her eyes narrowed, widened. His brow furrowed etc." I also have a problem with the excessive use of "then" and "next." I dread the editing portion of my novel. Who knows what other plunders lay within my draft...Sigh ):.

Ally said...

A friend recently called me out on having characters "Quirk a smile" too often. Smiles in general seem to plague my writing, especially interspersed with dialogue. I have to catch myself not overusing "wan smiles" "sad smiles" "Wry grins" or "lips twitching upwards"

Also I overuse the word "casually" in regards to gestures like shrugging.

Becca said...

I don't know if it really counts as a tick, but it's something that bothers me. Besides my overuse of the characters' names, I constantly have trouble describing things. Actual nouns, I can't describe them without it being boring.

Jill said...

Just
That
Smile
Laugh

I should try to write something without those 4 words. It might be half good. It's just that it's so hard to avoid (I say, smiling and laughing to myself).

minawitteman said...

Yes, my characters 'look' at things, too, albeit only in first drafts - or so I hope - as I am not only a writer but a tic-killing editor as well.

Lisa Desrochers said...

It's too many em dashes, according to my editor.

BradleeD said...

My MC is always "noticing" something. He noticed, he turned in time to notice, or he failed to notice. I also start way too many sentences of dialogue with "Well,"

Beth said...

The word "silent:" "They continued on in silence." "He was silent for a moment, then said," "She kept her silence."

Ted Cross said...

I'm sure I have them, but I don't know what they are yet. That's what I needed you for!

Jason said...

I catch myself using head movements during dialog too much, especially "tilting her head to the side" to show any one of a number of emotions: confusion, of course, but also thoughtfulness, impatience, and who knows what else.

What is frustrating to me is that I work carefully to make my characters speak differently, but I (apparently) don't work very hard to make them act differently.

*tilts his head to the side*

Claudie said...

My characters spend a lot of time sighing, blushing and laughing/chuckling. Then their -eyes- will be resting on something far away, instead of gazes. Their eyes are always doing a lot of weird things.

Then there's using 'Well' in dialogues. ALL THE TIME.

I have a lot of weird tics.

Loree H said...

My son read through and did some editing to my manuscript in May. As I'm going through the changes to be made, I noticed that he wrote, "AGAIN?", in big red marker every time my main character cried. I didn't notice how many times she wept, but he sure did! He even wrote, "well I'm glad she did because I was just about to!" after a "she wept once more." LOL!

Bane of Anubis said...

"only" & "just" & "definitely"

Alyson Greene said...

EYES!

His dark eyes widened. She rolled her brown eyes. His pale eyes glistened. She narrowed her brown eyes.

I'm going to gouge out my green eyes.

I think it's because I only look at people's eyes when I talk to them. I need to pay more attention to people's hands.

Laurel said...

I just can't stop using the word just. It's just so invisible that it just keeps creeping into my MSs no matter how many times I just search and destroy it.

Laurel said...

I just can't stop using the word just. It's just so invisible that it just keeps creeping into my MSs no matter how many times I just search and destroy it.

Nate Wilson said...

Even though I'm aware of the problem, I still overuse "that" all the time. I just can't stop myself.

(Other culprits: even, still, just.)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Certain gestures, for sure. Sighing, glancing, etc. I've made a conscious effort to think of new things they could be doing, but those ones kept sneaking in to my last book!

Suilan said...

The "looking" thing, too. And words like just, but, and seem. And character tics: my MC always bites her lips, her sidekick frowns or scowls far too often, and one of their teachers smiles several times per scene if I'm not careful.

Sometimes I find it hard to determine whether a certain expression (e.g. "she has her heart in her mouth") is a cliché or an idiom (partly because English isn't my native language.)

Regarding the often ridiculed physical impossibility of eyes darting across the room or doing some similar acrobatics on their own, however, I tend to prefer the "eyes" expression, my point being that there are thousands of idioms in every language of the world, none of which make any sense whatsoever if you insist on taking them literally. I do draw the line at "she tossed her head" though -- that one I can't stand.

Come to think of it though, I do talk about eyes too much.

More grievously, I have the annoying habit of repeating what I have just said, in other words, of saying things twice, which is great to portray long-winded or pedantic characters, but most of the time weakens the prose or dialogue or makes characters sound indecisive.

Also, whenever my MC is trying to figure out a mystery, she tends to lapse into wild guesswork. Sometimes, her logic gets so confused that when I revise the scene a few weeks later, I can't figure out what on earth she's talking about, how she could possibly have come to this conclusion or suspicion, and what I might have been thinking at the time.

ella144 said...

I overuse "looked," "back," and "around" as in my characters constantly look around or look back.

scottwbaker.net said...

My character's "stomachs heave" or something similar whenever something disgusting occurs.

I also love similes.

MarissaV said...

I am learning so much as I read these comments. I didn't realize it but I have many tics. My characters "pause" or "hesitate" often, they "look down" and "twirl a strand of hair" quite a bit, and I am forever removing the word "that".

Perry said...

writing convoluted sentences in the first draft because I started trying to explain something rather than show it.

And I keep adding action after dialogue when it should be before.

John Jack said...

Artlessly, redundantly tautological suspense questions directly asked in thought or speech in the form of rhetorical questions.

Will Geraldine discover who murdered Sam Updike before the muderer strikes again?

Rebecca Mahoney said...

Ellipses in dialogue. I didn't think I used that many more than a normal person, but it seems I do! I tend to have a lot of dialogue in my fiction, and I like keeping it as close to a normal conversational rhythm as possible. And apparently, my characters pause a lot!

Bonnie said...

I love em dashes for some reason. Must limit them to one a page!

Barbara said...

People laughing. All the time. Which is a bit odd because my novel is set in the Viking Age, a rather grim time period. They keep cracking jokes, too. Bad jokes. And then they would - right! - laugh again. *aaargh*

James said...

My characters look around a lot too. Looked at this, looked at that, looked up, looked away, etc etc. Thank god for our modern age of word processors that allow for searches to find how many times I use the word "look", not to mention the low chakra, "ly", in a manuscript.

jenoliver said...

Smiling (she said with a smile) and cocking an eyebrow (she said, cocking an eyebrow). I really have to watch out for those two when I'm writing.

As for the redundant words, 'just' is that sneaky ninja word that manages to infiltrate many of my sentences. I think that one has a lot to do with style and sentence structure.

Rachel said...

These comments hit too close to home. I've got the "just" and "as" problem, and only recently caught on to my habit of having characters staring and glaring and looking at everything. And that's when they're not busy smirking, smiling, and grinning at one other...in a dystopian world. Ugh!

When I revise I also have to reword a bazillion sentences that begin with "She", "He", or "Character's Name".

Kelsey Sutton said...

Siiiggghh. I was just thinking about this the other day, actually. My characters are constantly looking, turning, andsaying. It's painful. It's horrible. I'm horrible. :P No, not as bad as all that, but I'm working on it.

pookha said...

Mine is definitely sighing. I re-read a partially written piece yesterday and found at least one example of sighing in each chapter. As one commenter said, word clouds are a good way to look at this.

John Jack said...

I second as as an adverb, preposition, conjunction, pronoun used to construct long sentences.

She looked at him as he turned to face her as his true self, just as she herself as mean as her self-nemesis counterpart looked to him as if he defined her as the same as her friendlier counterpart.

Then there's it's, its and there, there's.

Magdalena Munro said...

Creeping thoughts, absurd thoughts, thinking aloud, alarming thoughts, too many damned thoughts. Wild thoughts abounding, realistic thinking, unrealistic thinking, lost in thought. I hate that these lines always creep into my writing.

It was clearly a mistake to minor in Philosophy.

Julie aka @Writers_Cafe said...

What I have to watch out for are:
* prepositional phrases, especially at the end of a sentence
* the word 'that'
* the word 'just'
I'm sure there are more, but these are the big three. After I write, I do a search for that, just, and various prepositions and do some rewriting there. It takes a while, but writing is not a race, after all!

Tim said...

The first I thought of was similes. I love them. I love them like ... oh wait. I tried the Wordle trick on my story and sure enough "like" appeared bold and proud alongside the characters' names.

Susan Bradley said...

The word 'just' is mine. It's funny because everyone in my critique group does it also, so we joke that we put our 'just' radar on.

Wendy said...

The word 'indeed' crops up with indecent frequency in my writing. It's in keeping with the genre and setting, but even I notice how often it appears, on read-through. :D

Nick Kimbro said...

'Moment[s] of silence' in which something supposedly 'happens': a lazy technique that keeps me from thinking of what that something is. And adverbs.

mimmp said...

1. For all those with 'just' issues...I hear you. I totally hear you. 'Just' is my comfort word - the word I go to when I'm out of chocolate.

2. I have no idea why my original comment about too much confusing detail showed up twice.

Arlene said...

In one of my stories, I noticed everyone was always looking at each other. When they didn't know quite what to say/do, they looked.

D. G. Hudson said...

Looks that make the other person go "what?", like in that LOST collection that was posted from a few weeks ago. (another version of De Niro's "you looking at me?")

Fragmented sentences seem more emphatic to me in certain scenes & dialogue. Have to watch those. (it's ingrained)

East coast weather in the summer can be brutal if it's hot and muggy. I melt in hot weather, too. Thanks for checking in with a post for your readers, Nathan.

Rebecca H said...

Characters nodding or shaking their heads. It seems every other dialogue tag I write is 'He nodded' or 'She shook her head.' It gets quite redundant after a while.

Tamara Narayan said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one fixated on 'just'. I also used the phrase "what a mess" at least ten times in the first draft of my book. Self-fulfilling prophesy, I guess.

Anonymous said...

My characters seem to stare a lot. Every now and then one of them will gaze at something, just to break up the monotony a little.

David R. Slayton said...

Funny, I just blogged about this.
It seems or seemed to . . .
This one got stuck in my head some years ago and I'm still trying to dislodge it. I have to search for every use of seem in a manuscript and cut them out like weeds.

Dara said...

I use head movments too much--looking, turning, nodding, staring, etc.

veela-valoom said...

I don't have a story here in front of me at work so it's hard to doublecheck BUT frankly, I think my characters talk to much. Always blah blah blahing about something or another.

And I think they talk too much because...ahem...I talk too much.

(Only thing I can remember from past word clouds is the character names being very prominent. Dialogue may be partially at fault).

Megan L. C. said...

My characters do a lot of knowing/not knowing. It's almost hilarious how often the instances occur one after the other, too. I can go pages without doing it and then it'll show up three or four times in another page.

I also have a problem with things like this: "he did x BUT ___," or "he wanted to x BUT he ____ instead."

And, according to my writing teacher, I butcher grammar in my dialogue, making characters 'less intelligent' sounding. This came up after I had someone say "There's too many places for things to hide," instead of "There are too many places for things to hide," so, while I can see what she means, I still like my way better. It sounds a bit more natural, even if it's not exactly correct.

Ezmirelda said...

Using the same verb twice in one paragraph...
:)

William Brian MacLean said...

My specific words are 'Well,' and 'So,' (with commas) at the beginning of dialogue.

I write lovely, detailed sentences. Then I get out my editor's machete & hack them into a semblance of straightforwardness; brevity is vital when writing for comics.

I also have a thing for 'also' - but I like it.

My 'that' radar is always on high alert, so much so that I get paranoid, wondering if I sometimes leave it out when it should be there.

The above sentence reminds me - I sometimes use 'sometimes' a bit too much; and 'a bit.'

(Note to self: publish this comment already.)

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I'm right with you Nathan. My characters are always looking at each other and stuff. I always have to go back in and just show the stuff they're looking at.

Amanda Sablan said...

My characters love to sigh a lot for some reason, so I have to find other ways of showing their weariness or what-have-you.

Ammie said...

My characters are constantly freaking sighing. *sigh* Or looking away. It's pathetic. But that's what revision is for, right?

Anonymous said...

My characters like to bite their bottom lip.
A lot.

Superfantastic said...

I overuse "apparently". I discovered this because I typed it apparnetly every single time.

Kathryn said...

Anything to do with their eyes.

That Guy! said...

Feel. "My stomach feels like it's on fire." "I can feel the floor, smooth and worn even through my socks." etc. It seems worse to me because I'm writing in 1st person. At least, that's how I feel.

Matt said...

"However." Those things infest my first drafts like cockroaches.

Anonymous said...

Piling and climbing....they're all exhausted.

Polenth said...

Goats.

RosieC said...

Blinking. My characters have a tendency to blink when pausing to process frustrating/irritating/unbelievable information.

One of my readers asked me if my main character had Tourette Syndrome. Back to the drawing board.

Lee Ann Setzer said...

Eyebrows.

Leah Petersen said...

Threes. Everything in threes.

She looked hot, tired, and fed-up.

It was brown, stained, and rough.

They ask, or don't, or never decide.

Threes. (Ha! I even said that three times.)

Mira said...

Glad it's cooled down for your trip, Nathan. :)

I use the word "I" all the time. I think that may mean I need to vary my sentence structure more. But since I write in first person, I'm not yet sure if that's a problem or not....

I also use too many commas. I love commas and like to throw them in everywhere. I'll throw some in now. Some commas for free, on the house: ,,,,,,

I do know I go through anything I write with a hatchet. Cut, cut, cut. It's sort of fun, actually. I like that part of it.

Monica Marier said...

My editor had to point this out to me. She underlined (in heavy red pen) all the dialogue that I'd started with the word "WELL." I was appropriately embarrassed. There was a LOT of red pen on those pages.

Apparently it's a speech tic I have that carried over to the page. That and the word "growled." My characters growl a lot.

Emily White said...

I'm too much about the eyes. Once I get started, it's his eyes did this and her eyes did that. It gets pretty ridiculous sometimes.

Backfence said...

Ellipses. Can't live with them ... can't live without them. (Dashes run a close second.)

My male characters are always winkers (but not in a lascivious way). I'm a sucker for a wink.

Interestingly, even well-established authors have tics. Just an observation; not a criticism: I've been listening to Nora Roberts audio books during my commute to work and I found myself actually talking to the CD this morning: "Frozen peas again? What's with you and the frozen peas!?" (Her female protagonists invariably get beat up and always, always, ALWAYS look to the magical healing power of frozen peas to stop the swelling.)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I've been using "I" too often. I have to go back and rework the story so that it's not so much about "I".

The Pollinatrix said...

Ridiculously extravagant, flowery modifiers.

Shaples said...

"Suddenly," "Abruptly," and characters running their hands down their faces/through their hair/rubbing their eyes.

maybe genius said...

I insert character names into dialogue. Constantly.

"John, what are you doing?"
"I can't believe you did that, Ken."
"Really, Jessica, cut it out."

I'm also a "just" abuser. I've also noticed in my manuscript that my MC seems to, um, get slapped by an inordinate number of people. OOPS.

T. Anne said...

I have to keep reminding myself my characters facial expressions do not have to be described at every possible interval.\\ Enjoy NYC! Go have a Marshmallow shake for me, will you? The restaurant is called 'Stand' on E. 12th street.

David said...

I'm definitely too attached to sighing and frowning...and I seem to really like to talk about how the sun and moon look at any given point in the day...

Ang said...

Generally speaking, I use too many introductory clauses.

I chuckled that you said you needed to "watch" yourself for using too many "looking" phrases. ;)

Lauren d. said...

Nodding. My characters are always nodding.

Sheila Cull said...

I'm finishing up a memoir so right now my writing tic is saying, "I" a lot!

Scott said...

Using the phrase, "he waited a beat," or "she waited a beat."

Darn Harlan Coben ... he made me do it!

Jolene said...

Sighing and head shaking and smiling. It's like my characters can't stop doing those things, and I can't stop mentioning it.

This was an exercise in hilarity. I love others' tics.

susancolebank said...

Stomachs falling...
Hearts stuttering...
Eyes staring...

-S.

Lydia Sharp said...

really, just, like, then, seriously, oh, okay, yeah, whatever... and things of that nature.

Especially in my YA fiction, which gets annoying after a while. I think that's why I genre-jump; it helps me re-focus.

Anonymous said...

My characters laugh, sigh, roll their eyes, and shake their heads an awful lot. Much more than normal people, it seems.

Ryan Z Nock said...

Mouth expressions - smiles, smirks, grins, frowns, scowls, sneers.

Heck, I wish we had more words for interim expressions, like the mouth shape you make when you pull your lips to the side because you're not sure what you're looking at.

And there should be a word for 'making an incredulous face.'

Marsha Sigman said...

I think my peeps stare at each too much. I mean all of us do it but I mention it too often. I also tend to start every sentence with 'I'. I really need to stop that. I am starting to sound incredibly narcissistic.

Cynthia Wilson said...

"a bit"

Jil said...

Feel and seem. She felt as if she would throw up if he seemed happy after what she felt had been a horrible experience. Ugh!

It's fun chopping them out though!

Brian Byrne said...

I use the word "as" too much. "She watched as angry grey clouds formed above" etc etc.

Katy Pool said...

My characters are always looking/staring at things too. Often each other.

Anonymous said...

Rowling likes the word "swept" as movement for her characters.

'Hermione swept into the dining hall . . .' and so on.

Cute.

Jess said...

My characters are always "dropping their eyes." I just realized that it makes them sound like the pirate with a fake eye in Pirates of the Caribbean. That part of the movie annoyed me like crazy, so maybe I should avoid annoying my readers with "dropped" eyes.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

In early drafts of my novel, none of my characters simply walked anywhere. Instead, they "made their way." That phrase is true to the period, but when I saw how often it appeared, it really made me chuckle. Hopefully the final version has a little more variety.

Amorena said...

My characters sigh CONSTANTLY! I'm starting to wonder if they all have lung problems. They also look at things, gaze at people, switch their gazes, glance at things, etc.

P.C. Haring said...

My characters all tend to do a lot of smiling.

Anonymous said...

"about". I will write things like "about ten paces down the road", then remind myself it's my own freakin' fictional universe, I can just say "ten paces" without being jumped on.

M Clement Hall said...

Most software will allow a search for a word, and some tell you the average length of this and that, but is there a program that will tell the writer how often he uses words he has NOT selected? It's easy if you know where you go wrong, more difficult when you don't. Or is "beta reader" the only way to do this?

Izzy G. said...

My characters are constantly glancing at things. And nodding.

It's enough to make me want to blind and behead them sometimes.

ANDREW E. KAUFMAN said...

My characters tend to grin and sigh a lot (not simultaneously, thank God).

Jess of All Trades said...

My characters glance a lot too! Oy. And things happen 'suddenly' all the time. Hm. It's cool to read all of these :D

Tom Bradley Jr. said...

Shrugging. My characters seem to do that a lot. They also look at a lot of things. But I'm happy to report, they no longer sigh. Elmore Leonard provided the cure.

Alexandria Gilbert said...

My characters are constantly "distractedly" runnings hands through hair, playing with hair, doing things with hair... Literary hair fetish, what up!

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Headed. You'd think I was narrating a soccer match. He headed this way. She headed that way. I gave myself a headache with it all.

The Huntress said...

Mine eat a lot!

hannah said...

Mine are always "realizing" shit.

Sommer Leigh said...

I rhyme. Not on purpose, and I don't catch it until I'm editing, but I rhyme like I'm freaking Dr. Suess.

My book is a YA horror about zombies. Suessically rhyming random phrases sucks the scary right out of the prose.

Lynn Oldenburg said...

Characters starting their sentences with the word "Well,..."

"Well, that's why we're doing it."
"Well, I don't like it."
"Well, you don't have to like it, you just have to do it."

Also, action clauses after dialogue attribution.

"Well, what do we have here?" Margie asked, tapping her chin.

I do that way, way too often.

Chassily Wakefield said...

Have you all been spying on me? Yes, sign me up. For all of them. Especially sentence fragments... and ellipses - oh, and em-dashes. My characters also turn and look so often, they should fall over from dizziness. Maybe they're good spotters.

Something new that crept into my WIP is a heroine who passes out *constantly.* It's freaking annoying! Oh, the drama. And my hero quirks his brow, the villain quirks his lips and the heroine's brother is just plain quirky. Thank God for revisions.

Actually, could we get this whole topic condensed into a "What Not To Do" list for editing reference???

Tina Roye said...

My tic as a writer is to do too much smiling, snarling, blushing or action like he spun or she raced. I also have a bad tic with the word That, and I have to constantly go back and find out why I wrote it three or four times.

Christa Paige said...

I'm loving this topic.

In my current manuscript, my hero is always grinding his teeth or clenching his jaw. My crit group noticed he was doing it often, so I had another character make a comment suggesting the hero get a mouth-guard to protect his molars.

(I'll have to take some of the instances out during revisions, though.)
Christa

ChristianRB82 said...

Related to your 'looking' issue, characters turning... usually turning heads or turning to another character to speak. I try to think of how an actor would react if you were telling them to do this as a director - really illuminates how annoying it is!

Also 'just' can suck the life out of any really good sentence. I do a search on this horrible little word after every draft just to make sure... gargh! See? It consumes everything! It's evil!

Ink Spills said...

My worst tics are the words "just" "only," and "like." E.G. It went just like this, only more annoyingly.

Caitlin R. O'Connell said...

I used to overuse ellipses like there's no tomorrow, but I noticed that and have since mercilessly eradicated them.

Now the things I overuse like there's no tomorrow are adverbs.

Janna Qualman said...

My characters hug a lot, which isn't surprising, because I do, too. :)

And look at, yes. I try to watch that one.

Art Rosch said...

My characters are always scratching their noses. I describe the positions of their hands and elbows, and I sit
at my computer and act out the positions to see if they work. How do you run a word cloud? I never thought of that. How cool!

Art

Lisa said...

This post got my attention and the comments are a scream because they are all too familiar.

My tic is probably an overuse of the word "that." And if I ever reach the editing stage with a professional, he or she will likely dub me the Ellipsis Queen.

Malissa said...

The word 'finally' enters into my manuscripts with alarming frequency!

Nicole said...

I used to have waaaay too many things happen "suddenly." Then not too long ago, short sentences eluded me for some reason, thus making everything a compound sentence with "and."

By the way, the Wi-Fi Nook is $149, but you can also opt for the $199 Nook that has Wi-Fi and the 3G AT&T network. In case no one has mentioned it (though I'm willing to bet you knew).

What can I say? I work at B&N and just took my Nook test today. So if you see someone wearing a big, obnoxious button that says "I'm Nook Smart!" you'll know they passed the test. :P

Nancy Coffelt said...

Shrugging. Totally shrugging.

Michael said...

That's easy. Nodding. No question about it. Sincerely.

Vern Tessio

CFD Trade said...

After all/In the end/by the way/ I just could not get these phrases out of the way. they are just there, ever present.

scarlettprose said...

My characters raise their brows a lot (not sure where they get that from). Also, they snuggle into the covers a lot--almost as if I'm subliminally plugging for a brand of fabric softener...

Linda said...

Wow, I see so many of my tics in the ones listed here.

I'm guilty of shrugging overmuch, having my characters meeting in coffeeshops, and startling. But not anymore! peace...

Caleb said...

Mine is alliteration and rhyme. I perform slam poetry in local churches and clubs and that tendency to make things rhyme slips into my short stories and essays.

treeoflife said...

Nodding. My characters all seem to have weak necks, and nod before each line of dialogue. Provide the conversation is somewhat agreeable, of course.

kalincasey said...

I have to watch "looked," "saw," "gazed" (and I hate "gazed'!), as well.

And I have a habit of starting sentence with measures of time: "Within minutes," "within seconds," etc. I had to cut so many of those out when I edited my recent book.

kalincasey said...

Oh, and staring. I had a big fat editorial note to myself that said, "Too much staring!" My characters have overactive eyeballs.

mE said...

My protagonist’s best friend is named May. I decided to name her Megan after the whole novel was finished. Only then did it become apparent that I use the word “Maybe” way too much. "Well, Meganbe..." :)

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Some old ones, hopefully I've outgrown:

"suddenly realized"--used to creep in far too often.

And over-describing. Once got ribbed by friends at a newspaper for writing about an interview "he took a sip of coffee from his styrofoam cup."

Worst was, in Texas, being ribbed about "Six Flags, an amusement park," trying to be perfectly clear...

Charlee Vale said...

I think it's my tendency to repeat things, although in different words. At the time it seems like it doubles the emphasis, but later it just seems redundant.

CV

Amy Cochran said...

My characters do a lot of breathing exercises, sighing, huffing and slow deep breaths. You'd think they were trying to recover lung function after a six pack a day smoking habit.

Lisa Lawmaster Hess said...

Mine is the dialog delay...well, um, so. I mean to put a beat there, but well, it um, gets old.

B.J. Caulfield said...

Using elipses (...) is a big thing with me. It's like a dramatic pause I guess. :)

Lorenda said...

I, being new to writing, tend to, in writing sentences, use an excessive amount of commas. Most, I'm sure, are, while gramatically correct, extremely annoying to the reader.

It's like, for example, my fifth finger, the pinky, gets bored, wants to come out, and play.

Moses Siregar III said...

Smiling.
Turning.
Perhaps ellipses.
My early drafts have talking heads.

I read a book recently that had this one: Describing things generically rather than specifically (a statue on the table ...).

Ann Elise said...

I just realized that, particularly in my current novel, my characters puke a lot. It's only the same two characters as well.

I also tend to start sentences with he/she/character name/I/whatever other pronoun applies. I try to stop doing it, but it's ingrained.

moosebabble said...

My characters are too damn introspective. Maybe if they went out and did something now and then, they'd make it to a bookshelf.

moosebabble said...

They also drink an inordinate amount of tea. I hate tea! My twelve-year-old MC should be drinking gin. At least then I could relate to him.

Hilary Helton said...

God help me. I've almost peed myself, reading these.

My characters also seem to do a lot of looking. With dark eyes, usually. And they smile a lot.

There might also be a slight problem with sentence fragments. Just a little one. A small issue, nothing more.

Yeah.

Where's the tequila?

mesmered said...

So many tics that my WIP is just one big example of St.Vitus' Dance.

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