Evil pet phrases

Okay, I’ve finished the easy part of my last round of revisions, which included deleting hella shruggeds as I’ve mentioned.  It was an interesting exercise since shrugs can stand for so many things: disgust, dismissal, confusion, reticence, flirtatiousness.  Finding fresher, more specific ways to say “she shrugged” ended up costing me more words, but gave me better flow & characterization.  (I hope).  I think my personal favorite (which probably means I should delete it — kill your darlings!) was a defeated shrug which I replaced with “bracketed his temples with his spread fingers.”

So, writers, a challenge.  Give me your evil pet phrases and the shiny new phrases which replaced them (along with a link to your deathless prose) and I’ll compile and post the list in some neat & tidy form.  It will be our updated Writers’ Guide to Kicking the Ass of Lazy Language.

To get you started, consider my other evil pet phrases…  Turned.  Gazed.  Glanced.  Smiled.  Breathed.  Scowled.  Stepped.

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13 thoughts on “Evil pet phrases

  1. My characters are always taking a deep breath, cleansing breath, quick breath. Other times there’s a glass of wine on ten pages in a row. Other days, everyone jerks. Purple prose will riddle my descriptions.

  2. Therese & Annie, what’re your fixes? Got an example? When you see that evil pet phrase during revisions, what have you replaced it with?

    I’ve changed “He took a deep breath” when the hero was ticked at the heroine to “He sucked in a lungful of annoyance.” An improvement? Maybe, maybe not. But it gets me going in a new direction.

    I think they’re all asthmatic.

    Ha. I was going to type snort, but I’m deleting snorting except under the most trying circumstances.

  3. I have to say the idea of “rolling ones eyes” . No they don’t come out of your head and you cast them about like dice, yet its a hard description to explain. We’ve all been 13 and done it. No doubt reading this your first thoughts are in your mother’s voice, “Don’t you roll those eyes at me young lady or young man”. You know my son actually got those bubblegum eyes… and I don’t know how long he had them in his pocket waiting but… yep you got it. he egged me on said something and I did it made that comment and suddenly two bubble g um eyes rolled past my feet. I still laugh thinking about it.
    But how, does one descripe this? how to put an end to the blindness??? I’m open for suggestions

  4. Ah yes, the rolling of eyes and the tossing of heads. Flying body parts can be the most maddeningly evil of pet phrases because they’re so common, so simple, say exactly what you mean… and yet have the unfortunate side effect of being laughably ridiculous when read with a literal bent.

    “Lifted eyes heavenward” has the same flying body part problem. You could weasel it to “lifted gaze heavenward.” How about it, people? What’s the fix for exasperation served up with a hint of pointed mockery?

  5. Glaring. Lots o’ glares, scowls, frowns. They’re an angry bunch — what can I say? Not sure what the fix is, except I try to scour these out and use other body language instead.

    Have you ever used a word frequency counter? (Here’s one to try, if you haven’t already: http://www.writewords.org.uk/word_count.asp) It can be enlightening…. or frightening. *:?)
    But it’s also important not to stress *too* much about any of this, and just let the writing flow. Sometimes, like “said,” a “shrug” is less intrusive to the reader than “His shoulders rippled upwards under the tight fabric of his coat, and then relaxed back down again.” *;?)

  6. I agree the first draft must be down on paper before tweaking the w.c. (word choice; not water closet). First drafts are for shrugging, turning and rolling your eyes. I think the problem is, like Therese said, that evil pet phrases seem to come in waves. Like the annoying cat that sits on your keyboard, leaving a string of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz where its butt was, my 90 shruggeds weren’t neatly distributed among the (ahem) 500+ pages of my manuscript. They bunched together, the better to stick out and annoy the reader.

    So Kerry, can you give us an example of the other body language you’ve used to replace a scowl or a frown? What other tag have you used to show that anger?

  7. My poor heroes and heroines snort and shrug too, but they also flare their nostrils more often than temperamental horses. Deep breaths and sighs, too.

    The trouble is, we’re supposed to get all that body language in to Show their emotions, but there are really a pretty limited number of expressive movements bodies make. Repeating them would be no problem in a screen play because actors know their characters will have characteristic gestures. But in the written novel, this is seen as being un-innovatively repetitive.

    I’m going to write a rebellious blog in defense of flying body parts sometime this month. I’ll let you know when it’s done.

    Delle

  8. blog in defense of flying body parts

    Yay, Delle! Please please say “tossed her head” is okay.

    I’ve never used flared his nostrils. I think I’ll make that my new bad habit. Thanks.

  9. Great post, Jessa!! I have to say that my hero freakin’ growls. ALL THE TIME. And I don’t even write paranormal or wereworlf stuff!!! LOL I kid you not, but after searching and destroying a total of about 45 growls, I knew I had a problem… So what I’ve been trying to do as a result is simplify with something as basic as said or no tag at all. Simplify, simplify, simplify is what I’m trying to do. But it’s so bloody hard… especially because I like men who growl.

  10. Oh sure, Miss Marvelle, make it easy on yourself by going simple. But I bet at least once you wanted to keep the delicious thrill of a growl. So what did you use instead?

    And since I happen to know you’re a fighter, I wonder if your attraction to growling (the word, I mean; I won’t presume to comment on the men) is indicative of your personal character. So what does my shrugging say about me? Yikes.

  11. Okay, this isn’t a great example, but it’s one I’ve used: “His blond brows snapped together over a large nose that slanted, just a bit, downstage left….” Also, “his jaw set in an uncompromising line,” and for the opposite effect, “He actually laughed at that, his stony expression melting abruptly into a smile that sent the heat from her face tingling all over her body.”

    I’ve also used the Dictionary of Nonverbal Communication (http://members.aol.com/nonverbal2/entries.htm#Entries) when I’m really stumped. It’s fascinating, the way we humans express ourselves with movement. I don’t always come away with any better writing, but it’s a great network timewaster, er, research opportunity. *;?)

    P.S. I’m linking your blog from mine. What a great topic!

  12. Your examples ARE perfect, Kerry, because they’re anything besides shrugging 🙂 I love “brows snapped together” in place of frown. Not everytime, I know, but with that change you were able to get in other descriptors in a very natural way. Yes perfect!

    And thanks for the links.

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