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Monday, March 21, 2011

10 Clichés in Today’s Fiction

Happy Monday! Real quick I want to let you know that I’m over at Jessica Patch’s blog today and would love it if you stopped by there and said hello. Also, Wednesday I’ll be talking about Deep POV at Edie Melson’s site, The Write Conversation.

And now I bring you my personal Top Ten clichés found in today’s fiction. Some are classic clichés and others are personal pet peeves.
10) Punching buttons.
Is everyone in your story punching buttons? Do they punch in every phone number; punch the elevator button, etc? This is losing its freshness. Use sparingly.

9) Too many adverbs
This isn’t new but is still a trap I see authors falling into, particularly new authors. Do a document search for “-ly” words and see if you can find a replacement verb instead of using the adverb. I.e. Instead of “walked quickly”, use “scrambled”.

8) Raven-black hair
No comment needed.

7) Never using the word ‘said’
‘Said’ is an invisible word. If you must use a dialogue tag, ‘said’ is preferred to “breathed, huffed, etc”.

6) Characters rolling their eyes
Not only is this cliché, it’s not terribly accurate. A full eye-roll is rare. But semantics aside, try to find another way to display your character’s attitude. Reserve eye-rolls for an occasional teen response or when another expression just will not do the job. Use it as a last resort.

5) Your MC describes themselves for the reader by looking in a mirror.
Oy vey! Mirrors have their place, but please. Most of us don’t wake up every morning and ponder our auburn curls, honey colored eyes with golden flecks, admire our high cheekbones or bemoan our double chin (ok maybe we do with that one). But you get the idea. There’s something to be said for allowing room for the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination too. Personally, I want an idea what the character looks like but I don’t want to work at putting every freckle and scar into place in my mind’s eye. It’s too much work. Mirror or no mirror.

4) Noticing eye color from across the room.
People, I have a bone to pick with you. I often can’t tell someone’s eye color even when having a face-to-face conversation with them, unless I make a point to really look. And you’re telling me that your MC noted the shade and brilliance and every colored fleck in someone’s eyes from across the restaurant? In my humble opinion, not every character needs their eye color revealed. It’s one of the last things we know about our own friends, honestly. What color eyes do I have? What about your kid’s kindergarten teacher or your pastor—do you know without checking? Mmm hmm. (Disclaimer: There are legitimate times to notice eye color. During a romantic embrace perhaps, or when a character does have eyes that are uniquely bright blue. But don’t make every character fit this bill.)

3) Characters who “gaze” at everything.
I don’t know when this trend picked up so much momentum but this one has really gotten under my skin. I use the word too, but I try very hard not to overuse it. I won’t give you a book quote because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But if you put this word on your radar next time you pick up a new release, it will jump out at you.

2) “Cupping” things
This is just a personal thing but it is high on my list because it just makes me cringe. There is nothing in the industry that says to avoid this word, but I would love it banned. It just makes me feel icky. Maybe it has something to do with bra shopping, I don’t know. Just be forewarned if I ever crit for you and see this word it will be replaced.

1) “Verbicizing” of nouns
My number one pet peeve, born I believe out of the passion for active voice, is the verbicizing of nouns and adjectives. (This term was coined, I believe, by miss Phoenix Sullivan in a previous post.) You know what I mean, right? A poor example is hands "fisting" rather than balling INTO fists. Or how about ‘he treed the cat’ instead of ‘he chased the cat into a tree’. Her hair "rivered" over her shoulders. I’m all about word economy but not when the result sounds weird. What’s next: It was so cold her lips blued? It must stop! If you find yourself thinking this is a nifty way to cut your word count, please step back and assess whether the phrase works or just sounds odd. Ask a reader (not a writer). We write for them, right? It doesn’t matter if our author friends love a neat trick to convey a line succinctly if the reader wants to laugh out loud, throw the book against a wall, or simply feels pulled out of the story by the unfamiliar use of English. For the love of all things good and decent in this world, please don’t do this.

So there you have my Top Ten. Feel free to disagree with the opinions expressed in this post. I hope I haven’t offended anybody. If you are gazing at your computer screen, ready to punch in a reply, and find yourself cupping a piece of rotten fruit to chuck at me, please don’t; it will only muck up your computer screen anyway. *grin*

What about you—what are your literary pet peeves?



Jessica R. Patch said...

"a bit" or "a little bit" I don't care for that. :) I think rolling eyes depends on the character. Not all of them do it, but some of them do!

Katie Ganshert said...

Great list! I don't mind number one, unless it's taken to the extreme. But I'm definitely NOT a fan of characters describing themselves via the whole mirror trick!

Michelle Massaro said...

Don't chuck the fruit at me, lol!

I know my top items are debatable and certainly subjective. I actually don't mind their careful use, but if it's here it's because I've seen it enough to jump off the page at me. So I caution to watch out for it. I've used just about every one of these and still occasionally will (minus "cupping"). I've got button-punching and eye-rolling and have even verbicized a few adjectives. But with great care.

So... take it with a grain of salt. (he he... see what I did there? With the salt. Cuz it's a cliche. Yeah.)

Carol McClain said...

I hate a single tear falling from the eye.

Casting a glare

quirking an eyebrow

and enough cups of coffee have been drunk to fuel the third world.

Michelle Massaro said...

lol, Carol my characters often are coffee snobs. Guess I should watch out for that. I hadn't thought of the single tear but you're right, that one usually does make me ROLL MY EYES. Good input!

Brooke R. Busse said...

I often wonder about the eye thing. It's come up to the surface of my mind once or twice.

Hmm... both of my MC's have dark hair. XD

Michelle Massaro said...

It's not the color of the hair though, it's the description. Pick something besides "raven black" :D

Jill said...

"Said" is not actually invisible and is more of a cliche these days, since colorful dialogue tags have been demonized for approximately 15 yrs. Plus, its use goes against the idea of using active verbs--although, I must admit, overly active verbs wear me out if used to excess.

Coffee really isn't a cliche, I have to say. It's a part of culture. Some people drink a lot of it, like Americans. If you wanted to be off the nose, you could have an American drinking wine for breakfast, I guess. Or at noon. Wine for breakfast sounds good. :)

Michelle Massaro said...

I didn't expound on it but I hope readers caught my "if you MUST use dialogue tags" line. It's better not to use them at all if you can, to use attributionary actions/beats. But if you must use a tag, please don't have your characters laughing all their lines, or breathing their lines, or choking their lines, etc. I find it really starts to stand out. I don't see one being more active than another though. How so?

I'm glad to know my characters can enjoy their coffee to their heart's content. =)

Phoenix said...

I may have used the phrase, but I didn't coin it (but thank you for thinking I'm that clever!).

It's funny, I saw your list a bit earlier and then did a crit of 4 paragraphs for someone who used "gazing" twice, both unnecessarily, and I thought of this post and smiled.

Michelle Massaro said...

LOL, see? We all probably have our own List, and I'm sure I use devices that drive someone else nutty.

Yes, you are still clever. Even if you didn't invent the word verbicize. ;)

Gina Conroy said...

I haven't even begun to tackle my cliches! I'm too busy working on cutting my word count, but this list is definitely a keeper!

Michelle Massaro said...

Thanks, Gina! When you do tackle them, I'd love to see your list. Maybe I'm on it, lol.