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.