This post, by Jamie Chavez, originally appeared on her site on 5/17/12.
When I get to the end of an edit, I generally make a list of the author’s “favorite” words and phrases—words he or she used over and over without realizing it. It’s quite instructive.
Usually they are words like so and well used at the beginning of sentences of dialogue. Often it’s amazing (and you know how I feel about that!). Smirk shows up a lot too. Recently a manuscript I worked on had dialogue littered with you and I both know and listen as a way to begin a sentence (Listen, Sam, you and I both know the president will never approve that death squad).
You can’t hide much from your editor, my friends. We’re like hairdressers. 🙂
But in the spirit of self-improvement, let’s talk about some words and phrases I really wish you wouldn’t use, because I am, frankly, tired of reading them. It’s good for you to know these things now. Honest.
• I couldn’t help but … (notice, think, wonder)
This phrase shows up in many variations, and all of them are unoriginal and empty. Stop it. Just say, “I noticed …”
• Truth be known
Aside from the fact it’s way overused, it’s awkward. If you really must use it, it should properly be If the truth were known. Don’t tell me it’s your voice. Please.
The hallmark of an inexperienced writer. Think about it: everything in fiction (in life!) happens suddenly. One second it wasn’t happening … and then it was. Suddenly.
• Blurt out
You remember my post on dialogue tags, right? I’m already not crazy about blurt for that reason, but when you write he blurted out, I cringe at the redundancy.
• I thought to myself (or he thought to himself)
Of course you think to yourself! Who else is in there with you? Now, you can say things to yourself. That means you’re speaking out loud, but are not engaged in a dialogue with another character. And that’s fine. Although it is, they say, one of the first signs of insanity.
• Then, then, and then
It’s not necessary to keep reminding me that one action came after another.