Friday, January 4, 2008

Pets in Your Writing?


Here's why I'm sad the holidays are over:

  • I have to take down all our beautiful Christmas decorations (and I will probably put it off until next weekend.)
  • I have to stop pretending that calories don't count because it's Christmas. :(
  • I have to say goodbye to my sister and her family who are flying home to Colorado tonight.

Here's why I'm not:

  • It's good to get back to work and back into a routine.
  • God has blessed me so much, and I have a lot to look forward to in 2008.
  • I don't have to hear "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys or "Where Are You Christmas?" by Faith Hill one more time until next Christmas season.

Seriously, I could not even begin to count how many times I heard those two songs on the radio this past season. They must have been the pet songs of stations I listened to, and I got so SICK of them!!

Sometimes I notice authors using unique words, phrases, metaphors, etc. that seem to become "pets" in their writing. They sound great the first time and maybe even more if used sparingly, but after twelve times in one chapter (okay, I'm exaggerating) they get way too repetitous and stand out as annoying. My mom is an avid reader and she picks up on these all the time. She'll tell me about a great story she read but how she got tired of the author using some particular phrase over and over.

When I pick up on these pets, I make a note in my review for the copy editor and author to search for all instances of the particular word or phrase and then limit them to a few (and far between) instances.

I know it's hard to see these things in your own writing (and that's what editors are for!), but if you think you might have some pets in your latest work, do a quick search yourself. See how many times you described something with a favorite word or phrase. Then, please, if you find 93 instances, do your readers a favor and replace a few with something new, so they're not saying "No, not again!"

Happy Weekend and Happy New Year!

8 comments:

Annie said...

For all of the songs that 94.1 played over and over and over again, I still didn't hear Dominic the Christmas Donkey--not once!!

The Imaginary Blog said...

"Little St. Nick" has one of the worst lines ever written:
"Christmas comes this time each year."

Well, yeah. It does.

But your point about re-appearing words is very well made. I'm a "just" and a "bit" person myself.

I have to watch out for those "pets"!

JanetS

Cara Putman said...

This is great advice...and so hard as a writer to see. That's why I have a couple friends read as I'm writing. Not only do they catch when something important is missing (like the romance LOL) But they'll also pick up on some of my over-used phrases. Even on my fourth book, I still struggle to see those.

And here I thought you were writing about real pets. We came home from Christmas with what we thought was a kitten...turns out he's probably a year old. But he's so friendly he was following my Grandpa Willard (think Canteen Dreams) to the barn and tripping him. Nice as the cat is, we had to save grandpa from the cat!

Mary Connealy said...

I know I use 'He squared his shoulders' and 'he narrowed his eyes' a lot. Just becuase I think they reveal mood so well.
I've tried to keep that under control. The trouble is, it's probably the ones I'm NOT aware of that I'm overusing.
Yay for editors. :)

And you're lucky it's Little Saint Nick.
For some reason, I've got
'The Wichita Lineman' stuck in my head well...not 'for some reason' I heard it twice on the radio and now I'm just stuck with it.
That is such a stupid song, what does it even mean? And why is
"I am a lineman for the country"
Sung like a mournful dirge. What? That's such a hard job? I mean c'mon, sure you have to go out in bad weather, but his main complain seems to be what...loneliness?
I need you more than want you.

Well, okay, go home at night for pete's sake. It's not like you're stationed in Bagdad. You're a lineman for the county.
Okay, gotta stop. I'm blaming the song for a migraine I had two nights ago.

And I never once heard "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" this year. It's like Christmas never came.

Myra Johnson said...

Finding pet words and phrases is one real benefit of having a critique partner. I remember when mine pointed out how I'd used the word "utterly" several times within a couple of chapters (I blamed it on my character--"It's just the way she talks/thinks!"). And like Mary, I find myself repeatedly using the same actions (like squaring shoulders, sighing, stiffening the spine, etc.).

Crystal Laine Miller said...

Every author I've ever worked on seemed to have pet phrases! I do think authors have things they say over and over just in speaking, so they also creep into the manuscripts. It's good to have a good editor who spots them. Would be great to have a crit partner who catches them before it gets to the editors! (smile)

I can't believe you brought up songs that drive us crazy. Right now it is more the commercials that drive me bonkers--sometimes a network plays the same commercial twice in a row! Arggh.

Where do you live, Mary? Witchita Lineman is old, old, old. You must be listening to the oldies station! (LOL) Cara doesn't even know what you are talking about.

Martha Rogers said...

I'm with you Joanne on the taking down Christmas decorations. Takes me several days to do the task. I have my favorites I want to leave out all year.

Bet you had fun with your precious daughter. I know I had fun with my newly-wed granddaughter and her new hubby. Felt strange to let that little girl (she's 22) go into the bedroom alone with that guy. :)

I don't make resolutions, but I do set goals and one of them is to get rid of my "pet phrases and words." Suddenly is one of them as are "took a deep breath" and "squared his/her shoulders."

Blessings for a wonderful new year to all of you.
Martha (Don't know how it came in as Erin)

Mary Connealy said...

Well, Cara is lucky and I was on a driving trip from Nebraska to Texas so we kept flipping to whatever station would come in where ever we were. Still, Wichita Linemen???...enhanced in my fevered brain no doubt by driving THROUGH Wichita...c'mon. It'd kill me to have Chris Tomlin singing 'How Great is Our God' instead? Now that I could handle.