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!)