One of the challenges in writing novels is how we use language. A big part of that language (obviously), is the words we use to say what we want to say. And while there are a fair few words available, it can be tough to constantly come up with new ways of saying the same thing.
The way I work is to write my novel/story/whatever until I get to the end and then start editing/rewriting/honing my prose etc. And to be honest, I’m always amazed, and sometimes a little embarrassed, to discover some of the stuff that has to be given the boot. Here are my worst offenders:
Yeah, I know, it’s one of those redundant groups of letters that get chucked in on the way to somewhere else and really isn’t needed. See – just there.
He/she raised an eyebrow
This is my albatross. In my mid-range novel The Architect’s Apprentice, I found myself popping it in without thinking. By the time I reached the end I found 17 people raising their eyebrows in reaction to just about anything.
In order to
If writers were hung, drawn and quartered for using this one, I’d be in bits by now. The sensible thing, is of course, to replace it with ‘to’. Easy.
This is another one on my bugbears and I have trouble finding replacements for it. Being somewhat unspecific, it should be swapped for words or phrases that are specific.
Inclined his/her head
This goes along with all those other things folk do with their heads: swivel, turn, drop, shake, roll and so on.
Characters do occasionally have to look at stuff/people/events. Mine do lots of gazing, glancing, staring and peering so maybe it’s time I added some more appealing descriptions of what we do with our eyes? (He said with a glower).
He said/she said
Dialogue tags are one of the small changes I’ve been making to my work. I remember reading Mark Billingham’s Sleepyhead and noticing how little he used them. Nice. However, it’s a difficult habit to escape. (The author nodded, as if to affirm this fact).
My characters are forever shuffling around in their seats to get closer or further away from whoever they’re talking to. So far I haven’t discovered a way to stop them doing it. Damn them all!
I never buy a book without reading the first page and it’s only if I can get past that first page that I’ll consider buying it. Of the dozens of books I peruse by indie authors, it seems that an author’s first book, perhaps unsurprisingly, suffers most from poor quality writing. Sometimes it feels like an epidemic – like some many-tentacled literary monster, poisoning texts, chapter headings and even titles.
Poorly-constructed sentences, grammar and spelling errors, repeated words (unless used as a literary device) are a few of my regular aggravations. And of course, the same things irritate me about my own writing. The more I write, the more I feel the need to adjust my writing style to make it better, more readable, memorable. But learning how to write better is part of a writer’s job and even though I’m complaining about it. I also love it! (Have to stop using exclamation marks…)