Friday, 19 December 2014

I Hate These Phrases in Novels: Tips for Improving Writing Style

Certain words and phrases have leached into the literary world to provide a crutch for lazy writing, to sound breezy or perhaps modern. Some of these phrases are annoying, others meaningless fillers. This is a shame as the English language provides limitless scope for creative expression. Why not use it to the full? The act of cutting out the expressions listed below will undoubtedly improve the writing style. Use only in dialogue – and even then, sparingly.

Irritating Words and Phrases in Novels

Weak Words in Novels
The following English words and phrases have for some reason infected modern literature. Books littered with the following expressions make me want to use that book as a draught excluder or as a discus. What a pity our bookshops are filled with such expressions. Aren’t publishing houses supposed to pride themselves on fastidious editing?

Irritating Phrases Number 1: Expressions in a Roundabout Way.

These are expressions supposed to form a bridge over something the author cannot express through laziness or an inability. They are vague, insipid and meaningless.

I figured, kind of, sort of, if you know what I mean, it’s kind of like, it’s sort of like, I guess, a bit like, something like.

A writer is supposed to be a wordsmith, otherwise, why write? Not being able to express something in words equates to a singer who cannot sing certain notes or a driver who cannot turn left. This is where the thesaurus comes in. Find an accurate word or sentence to express what the writer is trying to say. Don’t say ‘sort of’ or ‘something like’. ‘I figured’ is one of the worst phrases to come out of modern English and should result in confiscation of all writing equipment.

Irritating Phrases Number 2: I Want to Blow your Mind Away in a Lazy Way.

Awesome (I shudder), I mean, seriously, totally, epic (ugh!), wicked, amazing, that's cool, what a mindbender, blow me away, uber, it was surreal, literally, he’s a legend, ‘way’ this and ‘way’ that (way too big or way too small), ginormous.

Don’t tell the reader how ‘awesome’ it was or that ‘it was surreal’ because most readers will remain unmoved. Cut this hack and describe via any of the five senses what it was like to have something mind blowing to happen to the character.

Irritating Phrases Number 3: The Inane Tone

The tone of the narrator's voice can really grate on the reader. Certain expressions strung together makes me think of a nasally or whiny tone that gets ever more irritating. Such phrases as the following are like fingernails scratching the blackboard.

Go figure, seriously, to be honest, kidder, man up, my bad, rad, well, duh, bootylicious, hot (meaning sexy), holy crap, oh, my, that’s sic, get with the programme, suck it up, drop dead gorgeous, get hitched, go Girl, whatever, quit it.

Any writer who uses, ‘go figure’, ‘my bad’ or ‘duh’ in narrative prose deserves to watch the spontaneous combustion of the page the moment those words form. Expressions such as these are likely to alienate many readers, as the message the writer is seems to convey is that he/she only wants to appeal to a particular readership – the sort that doesn’t mind poor use of the English language.

Irritating Phrases Number 4: Historical Trite

Weak, lazy writing style is nothing new. It has been with us for many years in a multitude of novels and seems to have evolved in style. Once upon a time, expressions such as ‘my bad’ and ‘go figure’ had never existed. But the following expressions have been with us since the dawn of novel writing. So let’s celebrate the vintage of lazy expressions with literary irritants found below.

Starting with old roundabout and meaningless clichés.

To be honest, at the end of the day, in the scheme of things, many believe, at this point of time, obviously, basically, the fact of the matter, a lot think (or feel), it’s really (or it’s just), it is what it is (another shudder).

And now a few drops from the ocean of English clichés.

A piece of cake, dog tired, dead as a doornail, like a kid in a candy store, tip of the iceberg, brass tacks, avoid it like the plague, thick as thieves, nitty gritty, scared to death, tough love, cruel to be kind, a lot on your plate, down in the dumps, stubborn as a mule, no time like the present, still waters run deep, blood boiling, play the devil’s advocate, best foot forward, time flies, the nick of time, old as the hills, rough diamond, frightened to death, fall head over heels, quiet before the storm, nerves of steel, tail between the legs, love at first sight. 

Writers that use these cliches in writing are simply 'singing from the same songbook', if you know what I mean - the songbook of overused phrases.

Improve Novel Writing by Cutting Clichés

Certain words and phrases have crept into many novels which to me seems a lazy manner of expression. Some clichés such as ‘bootylicious, and awesome, have come about recently. Others such as 'best foot forward' and 'nerve of steel' have been around for years. Cutting them will immediately improve the writing style. 

Some clichés are so much part of our language, they can catch out the writer. I have been caught out a few times. But if diligent, the writer can find a new, original or accurate way of expression.

More Tips on Improving Writing Style

Words that should be cut from novel writing
Verbs to avoid in novel writing
Interview your fictional character
Using psychology in fiction writing

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