In this instructive piece, editor Jamie Chavez talks a bit about pet words in creative writing, but mostly she focuses on “some words and phrases [she] really wish[es] you wouldn’t use, because, frankly, [she is] tired of reading them.”
• I couldn’t help but … (notice, think, wonder)
This phrase shows up in many variations, and all of them are unoriginal and empty. Stop it. Just say, “I noticed …”
• Truth be known
Aside from the fact it’s way overused, it’s awkward. If you really must use it, it should properly be If the truth were known. Don’t tell me it’s your voice. Please.
The hallmark of an inexperienced writer. Think about it: everything in fiction (in life!) happens suddenly. One second it wasn’t happening … and then it was. Suddenly.
• Blurt out
You remember my post on dialogue tags, right? I’m already not crazy about blurt for that reason, but when you write he blurted out, I cringe at the redundancy.
• I thought to myself (or he thought to himself)
Of course you think to yourself! Who else is in there with you? Now, you can say things to yourself. That means you’re speaking out loud, but are not engaged in a dialogue with another character. And that’s fine. Although it is, they say, one of the first signs of insanity.
• Then, then, and then
It’s not necessary to keep reminding me that one action came after another.
• Memories that flash or crash
Why is it so difficult to write about memories? Phrases like Memories of that day came crashing down on him or He flashed back to a happier time are just overdone. Corollary: memories that stab, as in Waves of guilt stabbed at him. Ick.
He used to think that he couldn’t live without her. Then he realized that he could. If I had a nickel (as my father used to say) for every superfluous that I’ve removed from manuscripts, I could retire to that little beach house on Tybee Island I’ve had my eye on.
Read her full post here.