Last week Bethany talked to you about avoiding cliché phrases and common idioms in your writing. Today, I want to talk about cliché gestures and descriptions. These are the mannerisms that every character has, the physical actions that crop up in every chapter. Another plug for The Emotion Thesaurus. Each emotion entry will give you fresh ways to express the emotion as well as clichés to avoid.
Have you ever read a book where it felt like all the characters did was sit around and smile at each other? He smiled. She smiled back. Everyone grinned until their cheeks hurt, and you, the reader, came away with a migraine. Overuse of smiling is one of the clichés I see in almost every manuscript. It even worms its way into my own during the first draft.
But that’s why we have second drafts (and third and fourth and . . .). When you’re editing your manuscript, you can use the Find (and the reading highlight) feature of Word to determine how many times you use a particular word or phrase. If you’re a more visual person, or you just don’t know what words to look for, you can use a word cloud like Wordle to show you which words you use the most.Here are a few more common clichés to look out for:
- The lip biter. God bless him/her. There seems to be (at least) one in every story. Branch out. There are more (read: better) ways to show a person being contemplative/nervous/shy/etc. (Can someone get that memo to Kristen Stewart?) It's good to give your character a defining mannerism, but make sure it's original and unique to that character.
- The head shake and/or the shrug. Sure, we all do these, but they're just WAY overdone in fiction. Limit yourself to one or less per chapter. And if your chapters are very short . . . way less.
- The crier. We all know this person in real life. Heck, I am this person in real life. When someone cries ALL THE TIME, it’s easy to just dismiss their emotionalness (yeah, I made that one up). You want your characters’ tears to mean something. So, let them express hurt/anger/sadness in other ways as well so that when they do cry, the reader really feels their pain instead of rolling their eyes. Usually if the character is crying, the reader isn't, and you want the reader to be crying.
- The woman who gets “weak in the knees” after a kiss. I mean, really? REALLY? No she didn’t. That’s not a real thing.
- Neither is the “electrical jolt” of instant attraction. He touched my hand and I felt sparks. Ugh. Can we not? Please?
Okay, dear readers. Your turn. List the cliché gesture or description that weasels its way into your writing the most. OR . . . share one that drives you crazy when you're reading.
Thank you guys so much for the nice things you've said about The Emotion Thesaurus! The struggle with cliche, overused gestures is EXACTLY why Becca and I put this book together. Our characters were always frowning, shrugging, rolling their eyes (we write kidlit & YA, lol) and whatnot. We KNEW there had to be better ways to show emotion, so we started making lists. Crazy how that one simply idea has turned itself into a book used by so many--that still boggles my mind some days!ReplyDelete
Have a great weekend, ladies! You rock!
Thanks for dropping by, Angela. And thanks for CREATING such an amazing resource. I recommend it to all my clients and always keep it by my side when I'm editing.Delete
Sorry, you're having problems with trolls. I just had to say that this entry made me smile. Like all writers I've been guilty of nearly all of those early in my career...wait, my last chapter...oh, dear. I have to go check something. Have a great day, ladies!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Dawn. You and me both.Delete
I swear by the Emotion Thesaurus. As a matter of fact, I'm writing a first draft right now and it's packed with "smiled" and "turned" and…ugh! But I worry about slashing those later. Anyway, I also write in my first drafts (see ET). That way I can add those details later. First drafts are the hardest part for me, so I need to power through and pretty it up later :)ReplyDelete
That's how I do it too. I like the idea of adding the ET note. I may try that for my next draft.Delete
I've always hated hooded eyes. I could never figure out if it was an emotional description or the poor woman was dating a neanderthal (literally, not the common American male neanderthal). It ranks right up there with chocolate eyes, which I know is not an emotional description, but I have nightmares about my wife describing my eyes as chocolate...and then waking up blind. Great post. Love the Emotional Thesaurus.ReplyDelete
Thanks for this. Now I'm going to picture a Neanderthal Man every time I see that phrase. =) I read something recently where a character had chocolate pudding eyes. It's probably best not to compare body parts to gelatinous foods.Delete
I enjoy the way you ladies share information, resources, insights, wisdom and so much more all in the tone of a light and friendly conversation.ReplyDelete
Makes me want to stay in touch AND read your books.
Thanks, Lady. We can't wait for you to have the opportunity to read our books. ;) Thanks for joining the conversation.ReplyDelete
haha! I've done all of these! At least once a book. No chocolate eyes, though. I'll have to put that in.ReplyDelete
LOL. They're all pretty common. My first drafts always start out FULL of them. Thanks for visiting.Delete