Rain teems down outside as you cozy up to the crisp pages of a new book, snug under your new fleece blanket and latest #bookish socks. You’re coasting along, line after line, eating up the words and losing yourself to the delicious story.
Suddenly, there it is. That word. Like nails on a chalkboard, the word comes screaming into your mind, like an unwelcome wild animal hissing and ripping up the furniture. There are certain words or phrases that just rub some readers and writers the wrong way. Some are overused, annoying, and totally cliché, while others just sound gross.
What is my word?
EVERYTHING is apparently “glinting” in stories. The moon, people’s teeth, glass on the ground, spilled water, you name it. I find it is a crutch word for some kind of light reflecting off of a surface, but it is so overused that when I see it, I am immediately taken out of what I am reading and thrown back into reality. Ew.
My solution? A $7.99 paperback thesaurus. Cheap, organized, and full of creative alternatives: Sparkle, flash, gleam, glimmer, shine, twinkle, shimmer…
A fantastic set of resources I have fallen in love with are the thesauri from Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. I am obsessed with these, especially the emotion thesaurus, negative trait thesaurus, and emotional wound thesaurus. They all aim to elevate your storytelling and are absolutely worth checking out. Another resource I love to use when trying to drum up better descriptions and phrasing is a site called Descriptionari.
Here are a few more words and phrases to stop using:
Bile: There are apparently a staggering number of characters in books that have gastric problems since they all seem to be in need of an antacid, stat. Phrases such as “Bile rose in her throat” or “I tasted bile in my mouth” are popular. Please, just…don’t.
Releasing a breath: Not only do many characters have GERD as mentioned above, but also seem to be holding their breath. They will then release this breath that they weren’t aware of. Most characters don’t hold their breath, but this phrase is commonly used to show a physical representation of tension inside a character. Consider a switch to something more unique such as “I took a sharp inhale, then the tension in my chest eased as I finally let it go.”
Very: Very strong, very weird, very high, very wet, very gray, very tired…you get it. It’s boring.
Shaking one’s head: You see it everywhere, but most characters don’t really need to do this. In some cases, it may work, however, it may be fitting to re-word so it isn’t so cliché.
Clench: A lot of things clenching here, folks. Clenched jaws, hands, eyelids, fists… How about grasp, clamp, clasp, clinch (this is a real word, check it out), clutch, constrict, contract, grapple, grip, and hold? Or better yet, twist them into a more original, unique phrasing such as changing “My jaw clenched” to “The muscles along my jaw knotted.”
AN ARMY OF ADVERBS: (These are words that end with “-ly”). This isn’t a phrase per se, but rather a trend within a string of paragraphs. In a book I read late last year, I came across so many adverbs in the writing that it abruptly (see what I did there?) took me out of the story. A few dashed here and there are fine to sneak in, but please don’t let them build up.
What are your trigger words and phrases?