I’ve been part of a critique group for some time now. Long enough to discover certain writing patterns, and to develop a loathing for those patterns. But apparently it hasn’t been long enough to excise these patterns from my own writing habits. When I’m really in the zone, just slamming out words, I still catch myself doing some of the following stuff:
Characters turning to each other.
Not characters turning on each other. That can be fun! No, I’m talking about when a character turns to another character just to engage in conversation.
“No. Not even a little.” Julianna silently regarded the contraption for a moment, then turned to Todd. “You’re crazy. You know that.”
Todd turned back to his masterpiece. “Not even a little.”
As an action beat, sure, it works. Once. But when I have characters turning this way and that, often several times in the same scene, it just appears ridiculous. Especially since it’s so often unnecessary. Characters can have conversations without looking at each other.
Tying two thoughts together with an -ing verb.
I’m not sure where I learned how to do this, but some part of my brain just loves tying thoughts together with -ing verbs.
Hinging open the bulbous canopy, he hoisted himself into a cramped space filled with a mess of levers and dials.
“Open the floodgates,” Todd spoke into his headset microphone, gesturing towards the red wheel valve on the far wall.
Using an -ing verb like this indicates that the two separate actions are happening at the same time. Sometimes, they are. Other times, the actions I mean to express happen in sequence, and the thoughts really ought to be separate sentences. But whether it’s done correctly or not, it usually adds unnecessary complexity to the sentence, which can easily screw up the tempo of the whole scene.
Using a character’s name repeatedly in dialogue.
My characters call other characters by name all the freakin’ time.
“Julianna, for the hundredth time, this is going to work.” Todd cinched his safety harness a little tighter.
Julianna hesitated, one hand on the big red wheel. “I hope you’re right, Todd.”
In reality, people usually don’t talk like that. Especially if it’s just the two of them, and they couldn’t be talking to anybody else. Next time you’re talking with somebody, try constantly using their name. Shoot for once a sentence. See how long it takes for that person to punch you in the face.
Confession: I consistently forget which words need hyphens, and which just work as compound words. And I rarely look it up, because laziness.
A white wall of out-pouring water flooded the channel and slammed into Todd’s aero-contraption.
The water-fueled force shoved Todd against his seat-back as his machine was propelled over the edge, out-side the tower wall, and into the open air.
Which of those hyphens are necessary? Which should be two separate words, or just one compound word? I could tell you the answer, if I spent the time to actually look it up. Instead, I sift handfuls of this nonsense out of each chapter during the revision process.
Everybody smiles or frowns.
There are countless ways a character might react to a given situation. But why explore that boundless space, when we can limit ourselves to a smile or a frown?
Todd discovered that he was lying in a bed in the infirmary and frowned back at her. “Did it work? Did I fly?”
Julianna smiled at that. “Not even a little.”
I’ve had entire scenes filled with smiles and frowns. Bonus points if the characters turned to each other before smiling and frowning. (grumble)
Of course, as with all writing rules, these things shouldn’t be avoided at all cost. There are valid reasons to use every single one of them. But when they’re abused, it’s awful, and I hate that I still abuse them even when I should know better.
Learning is a process, I suppose.