Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing Pet Peeve #2

I haven’t shared a writing pet peeve with you for a very long time. That’s a good thing. It means I don’t actually run into very many of them.

But I’ve recently come across a new one that’s bugging me. That’s because it’s been popping up so frequently in a string of novels I’ve been reading, all written by different authors, so I’m somewhat at a loss to account for it. Last time, my peeve was an overabundance of characters rolling their eyes.

The characters in these books have hardly rolled their eyes at all. But they cross their arms. A lot. Mostly women, but not always. In the most recent book, after the woman crossed her arms every few pages, one of the men suddenly crossed his arms. Now, if he had been mocking (gently or otherwise) the woman by this action, it would have glided by me without a glitch. In fact, it would have considerably lessened my annoyance factor with the woman in this book, because then it would have come across as a character trait in the woman that the other people around her noticed (and that possibly she noticed in herself), and it would have become part of the narrative of characterization. But this wasn’t the case. The man was both miles and pages away from the woman and appeared to do the arm cross quite independently of the woman’s earlier actions.

I don’t often give writing advice here, because I read so many “this is the correct way to write” advice given on the internet, then pick up successfully published books that break those “rules” left and right. But this is one piece of writing advice that I feel VERY STRONGLY ABOUT! (You can tell, because I’m actually posting about it.) Using repetitive phrases OF ANY KIND is a BIG MISTAKE FOR A WRITER. Unless, as I said, it’s part of a character’s characterization. In which case, you MUST make that clear to the reader, either by the character recognizing the repetitive action in herself or himself, or by having another character point it out at some point. Otherwise, some readers (like me!) are going to begin to think the writing is just plain lazy. And just trust me on this, you do NOT want readers to think your writing is lazy.

So, if other authors, no matter how famous, are having their characters roll their eyes every few pages, you be creative and think of something else for your characters to do. If another author, no matter how many awards she’s won, has her character constantly crossing her arms, have your character do something else. Anything else! Just don’t have her copy what the award winning author’s character is doing, because then you look like a copycat, and yes, you also look like you were too lazy to think up something on your own.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying your character can’t ever roll her eyes or cross her arms. But limit her to once, maybe twice in the book, and then I promise it won’t jump out at anyone and annoy them. I promise! Remember: Moderation is a virtue. Exercise it in your writing!

(NOTE: I'm deliberately posting this after a considerable time gap between when I read the books referred to and this post, so there's no use looking at my "What am I reading now?" posts and trying to guess which specific books fell into this trap. I don't want to embarrass anyone, just encourage authors to be a little more careful.)

So, do you have a writing pet peeve? Share it here in the comment section! (I'd better be careful. I'm sure I do something that annoys some readers as much as other authors write things that annoy me!)


Tina Scott, the writing artist said...

Love your rant! It is irritating when an author uses one manerism over and over again--yet it is so easy to do and not realize. Tina

Brenda Smithies Hall said...

I'm glad to know these pet peeves since I'm a writer and trying to get published which is very much harder to do than what the books say. Brenda.

Betsy Love said...

Joyce, thanks for posting your pet peeves! I'll have to do a search and find and make sure my characters are not doing excessive arm crossing and eye rolling--even though they're teens. :D

S.B.Niccum said...

Oh! I know what you mean! Like when a character is constantly biting her lower lip. At some point, it gets old! Unless they have tourette's syndrome, of course!
S.B. Niccum
Author Website

James Duckett said...

I love it. And I'll keep it in mind. Thank you!

Donna K. Weaver said...

This is something I worry about. I've tried to pick out particular mannerisms and make them unique (or nearly so) to particular characters.
It's tough to find new and different ways to show this.

Especially when people in real life can do exactly as we portray them. And it can be just as irritating them. =D

Donna Hatch said...

I read a book years ago where the heroine gave everyone a ___ look. An angry look. An arch look. An annoyed look. I started counting the ___ looks and stopped enjoying the story.

I think you nailed it -- key is not to use any action or phrase repeatedly. One of my favorite authors used to use appalling all the time. It sorta became a game to find it. The last few only had it once or twice, so someone must have tipped her off. In her honor, I use that word at least once in every story I write. The trick is to have either great beta readers or meticulous editor to catch those things because it's hard as an author to notice that in your own writing. Now I'm off to check my WIP for eye rolling and arm crossing...

Heather Justesen said...

I had someone point out that I had tons of eye rolling in one of my recent WIPs. Now it's in my list of things to search for when I'm cutting out repetitive words and phrases. I'll have to search for arm crossing as well.

Laurean Brooks said...

Oops! I'm sure I'm guilty of overuse of some mannerism. Maybe "narrowed her eyes," or "bit her bottom lip."

In one book the hero kept pinching his nose. I thought that was gross. LOL.

Thanks for pointing this out, Joyce. I'll be more careful.

Miss Mae said...

Ah yes, know exactly what you mean. This repetition is something I strive to catch in my stories too. Sometimes I'll see where my characters frown a lot. LOL

Have you noticed this mannerism on television too, btw? For instance, Patricia Heaton who played Debra, the wife of Ray Barone in "Everybody Loves Raymond". Constantly, constantly, CONSTANTLY --did I mention Constantly????-- she crossed her arms...several times in each episode! Watch her these days in "The Middle". She STILL crosses her arms!!!

The writers really should have her doing something else -- of course, JMHO!!!! LOL (or is that JMPP?)

Gail Pallotta said...

Hi Joyce,

An interesting post. In what I've been reading it's the eyebrows. It's certainly something to think about in one's own writing.

Peggy Urry said...

Great post Joyce! One more thing to be on the lookout for.

Joyce DiPastena said...

I've been noticing a lot of eyebrow lifting in my latest WIP. Gonna have to watch that in my rewrites!

AZ SMITHS said...

I just went through my WIP and deleted several eye rolling episodes! :)

One of my pet peeves is typos. I mean, by the time it reaches print, those typos should be gone. I'm catching them on my first run through and wonder why all the editors and beta readers missed them. (To be fair, I'm not a fast reader or skimmer, I read every single word so I catch a lot of typos and other errors.)

Also, it bugs me when authors use fancy words I don't know. I'm too lazy to look it up so I just skip it, but it pulls me out of my reading groove.

Valerie Ipson said...

I am standing here with arms crossed rolling my eyes.

I'm totally with you, Joyce.