Deb Erika Wants to Go Cold Turkey

Erika MarksBad habits? Oh, I’ve got ‘em. Just ask my husband.

(On second thought, don’t.)

Since we’re tackling the subject of those bad habits this week at the Ball, I thought I’d delve into some bad writing habits that I am still trying to break. (I say trying in the event that these very same words and or/phrases should end up in one of my future novels.)

There are certain words and phrases I am apparently very fond of—and it has taken some very kind ladies (aka my agent and editor) to point out just how fond I am of them.

So, in no particular order, here are some of Deb Erika’s bad prose habits:

Brightly. Oh, who knew I was so fond of this word? Well, why not? Doesn’t everything sound better when it’s done brightly? Too bad it’s redundant when I use it. As in, She smiled brightly. (Er, does anyone ever smile dully? Well, maybe. But let’s not pick hairs, shall we? Do we want me to quit this, or not?)

No matter. Oy. This one. I shudder to think how many of these I pulled out of my last manuscript. And what’s especially tricky about this one is its versatility! (No wonder I love it so!) There’s: No matter what he said she laughed. Or: No matter, he thought. Let them laugh. See what I mean?

Facial expressions. My characters apparently think lines on a face build even more character, because, boy, do they have ‘em. They frown, they smile (brightly!), they grin so much I think they’re actually trying to entertain a screaming infant or audition for mime school.

They glance a lot too. And while they’re glancing, they look. And while they look, they watch. They are really, really observant. Which is, you know, good for the reader. Within reason, of course.

The throat. It seems all too often when my characters feel things they feel it in their throat. (And I’m not talking laryngitis.) Tears well up in their throat. Regret bubbles. Dread chokes. Which leads to a lot of swallowing, and not necessarily while they’re eating or drinking. Go figure. Maybe my next lead should know the Heimlich.

And last, but not least, sometimes, at the very end of a chapter, I have this really annoying tendency to think I’m ten seconds before a commercial break on Guiding Light (a moment of silence please for our beloved, departed soaps) and I lay the da-da-dum on so thick, you need a putty knife to delete it.

Whew. I really feel better for admitting all that. Now it’s your turn, folks…

Tell me I’m not alone in trying to kick these bad habits–tell me the words or phrases you are addicted to—or the ones that drive you bonkers in other people’s writing!

17 Replies to “Deb Erika Wants to Go Cold Turkey”

  1. LOL! Oh, man, can I ever relate. My characters tend to smile (and grin) way too much. Oh, and narrow their eyes. I have to do special purges for those, as well as for certain favorite words of mine, like “just” and “that” and “actually.” Thank God for Search and Replace function. Or, as I like to call it, Search and Destroy. 😉

      1. I’ve learned that (ha!) it’s just (ha-ha!) easier for me to let ’em flow with the first draft, and go kill them later. 😉

  2. I used to be addicted to the ‘long moment’, which would occur anytime I needed a beat. Instead of something happening in that moment, one character would just stand there staring at the other. (Though they did occasionally sigh or frown or glance.) But I was so mortified at being called out on it that I have banished that phrase for good. I hope. This post makes me want to run a word search.

    1. Oh, my friend, how, HOW, could I forget my addiction to the “long moment?” Maybe because it’s one I haven’t kicked yet. But you did? Be very proud of yourself, my dear.

      And I hear you about the mortification-factor. It really takes that, doesn’t it?

      Now excuse me while I go run a search for my long moments. Oy. This won’t end well.

  3. I’m with Linda – “that” and “just” are my crutches along with “I knew” which is a first-person thing that’s often unnecessary. My characters also do a lot of head-cocking and shaking. So funny that we focus on certain body parts, isn’t it? I definitely do the search and destroy thing, too.

  4. Good Morning Everyone,

    Hope your day is going well. Love this post today Erika as I am going to contribute to it even though I am not a writer but I do a lot of letters for people and it is amazing on what they continually use.

    Here is the list:
    “further to your”
    “your last”
    “we trust”
    “this writing”
    “we would”
    Wow I am so happy to contribute to the writing Deb’s today how do you like it girls, even though I am not a writer. Crutches come to many in different ways, to bad some of my letter writers don’t see it, oh well what ever turns you on I say they write I type, I will have to suggest to them to do the search and destroy thing do you think it will help NOPE.

    Have a good one Debs.

    1. Hi, Marcia! Thank you so much for adding to our bad-habits-list today. It’s scary how many are out there, isn’t it? And it really takes someone else stepping in and pointing them out sometimes because too often we are SO used to using them, we don’t realize the crutches they are.

      Here’s hoping some of your letter writers read this post today and rethink a few things! 😉

      Have a great rest of your day–and a great game of mahjong later?

  5. I probably have more, but these are the ones I know on sight. They’re in abundance in EVERYTHING I write.

    My words:
    “Well” (If you don’t ‘well,’ then you’re not really replying)
    “Anyways” (‘Well’s stuntdouble)
    “Just” (just because)
    “Simply” (‘Just’s brother on her mother’s side)
    “But/Yet” (my golden twins, popping up every other sentence, if that sparcely)
    “Though/although (my silver medal twins)

    My repeated actions:
    “Her heart pounded/raced/drummed/etc.” (It’s a wonder my characters don’t have heartaches)
    “She sighed.” (I’ve substituted ‘sighed’ with ‘farted’ so I might stop clinging to it)
    “She rolled her eyes” (it’s all the rage in my fictions)
    “He snorted.” (better than sighing, I guess)
    “She huffed.” (‘Snorted’s stuntdouble)
    “He looked/glanced/turned” (watch, he’ll roll his eyes in a second *giggle*)
    “He chuckled.” (because laughing is soooo yesterday)

    1. Ha! Angie, you win the list today! These are so spot on (and nice work with the “farting” stand-by–hey, whatever it takes to quit, right? 😉

      Looking at these lists I think we will ALL be hitting the search button a bit harder the next time around!

      Thanks for coming over to share!

  6. I’m so with you on this!! I have so many “echo words” it isn’t funny….but the ironic thing is that the echo seems to shift slightly with each manuscript.

    In Claws of the Cat, it was “cherry blossom” – I was consciously using cherry blossom metaphors in one part of the novel, but suddenly the entire manuscript looked like Kyoto in February. It was, in my son’s words, “a little freakish, mom.”

    In Blade of the Samurai (the sequel to Claws, which I just finished and sent to peer editing this week) it was “piny” – as in, pine-scented. Once again, it was my son who pointed it out. “Mom, this manuscript smells like air freshener.”


    Nice to know we’re not alone!

    PS: the third book in the series, Flask of the Drunken Master, takes place largely in the sake brewers’ quarter of Kyoto – I’m hoping my brain goes back to visuals rather than smells with the echoes, because I can only imagine what kind of “attractive” odors I’m likely to find there…

    1. Ah, yes. Leave it to our beloved ones to tell us like it is, right? 😉

      I am so looking forward to your series, Susan–and now that you’ve dangled the whole “sake brewers’ quarter” thing–I’m a goner! 😉

  7. Oh, yes, the joys of seeing how repetitive I get when writing really hits me hard during revision. In my latest story, I have a lot of characters glancing about, too. I really need to find a new word. It’s like my default, they don’t look, they don’t stare, they *glance*. I don’t know why, but it seems to be the first thing that comes to mind every time.

    1. I know all about the glance, JQ–mine “glance” far too much too. As I’m finding on this pass at revisions! Looks like I’ll be glancing, I mean, LOOKING, for a new word too! 😉

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