Have you noticed how many people drive the same kind of car as you? I’m betting, you didn’t pay much attention to ____(fill in the blank with what you’re driving) until you started driving one yourself. Then, it’s as if every tenth vehicle on the road is the same make and model!
Writing can be like owning a new-to-you car. When a writer becomes aware of a major writing taboo, it’s suddenly easy to recognize it. Especially *gasp* in you’re own writing! When a friend in your writer’s group points out that most of your sentences start out with “He was”, or that editor highlights how many times you used “swiveled” in your novel (um, yes, that happened to me), those things are suddenly on your writing radar.
If you learn enough writing faux pas, it becomes difficult to enjoy reading a book for the sheer pleasure of the story. You mentally edit what you read and wonder how the book’s editor allowed the author to use “in the sky, the moon was as thin as the blade of a knife” or some variation of it four times in as many chapters (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin). Seriously, comparing the moon to a knife blade happened repeatedly in one of Martin’s Game of Thrones audiobooks that I was listening to.
Now Martin is brilliant at descriptions and comparisons—which may be why such an oversight glared (or in my case blared) so brightly. But let’s face it, if the likes of George Martin can overuse a phrase, how much more careful must we—the Martin/Lewis/Tolkien/Rowling wannabes—be? To stand out against a MILLION newly published books a year (thank you, Amazon), we need to be a paranoid kind of careful!
I once happened across an ongoing list in which readers contributed examples of characters being described as “forgetting to breathe”. It was comical to see the plethora of lines that read, “she forgot to breathe” or “he finally remembered to breathe” in one way or another (most of them, pretty straightforward forgetting to breathe).
First of all, who literally FORGETS—like, oh man that’s right, I haven’t breathed since lunch and it’s practically dinner—to breathe? No one! I’ve never forgotten to breathe in my *ahem* many years on God’s green earth. Now, I may have involuntarily held my breath because something startled or frightened me, but after the moment passed I didn’t smack myself in the head and say, “Duh, might help if I started breathing again. I’m so forgetful!”
Ever since I saw that list (which I hoped to link to but cannot find, thank you Murphy’s law) I have been shocked at the frequent use of the term in the books that I read or listen to. It’s ridiculous, people! Now, my intention is not to step on anyone’s writing toes. I’ve got my own overused and/or nonsensical phrases as well of which I am hoping to become more aware. I guess what’s surprising, is how prevalent that particular phrase is now that I know about it, and that editors allow it to be used when it really doesn’t translate to reality.
However, if I hadn’t come across that list I probably wouldn’t think twice about reading it in a book. It took someone pointing it out for me to be conscious of it. Which makes me wonder how many other phrases or words I am blind to in my own writing, or in literature in general (which means I’ll probably emulate it in my own way, unknowingly, at some point!).
What overused phrases or words have you noticed in books or movies? I may as well start looking for those as well, LOL. Do you think it’s okay to use common phrases even when they don’t make sense or are overused? Let me know in the comments! I love to hear from you 🙂