Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sentences You Need To Stop Using

The more I read, the more I see the same sentences and phrases, over and over again.  They're annoying, unoriginal, and often meaningless or impossible.  Therefore, we should stop using them in our writing (unless you're turning the cliché on its head somehow).  This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are many, many examples I've missed.  It's not really as much a list of clichés as a list of overused and/or illogical sentences that make me roll my eyes. 
 
  • "I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding."  I see this all the time in books, but think about it: have you ever had that experience in real life?  Think hard.  You haven't, have you?  It doesn't happen.  So why do fictional people do it?
  • Anything beginning with "Finally..."  Here is my favorite use of the world finally: (full quote here)
And he says, "Viola-?"
And I pull myself towards him-
And I kiss him.
And it feels like, finally.

(Patrick Ness, Monsters of Men)

This is a beautiful use of that word.  Unfortunately, most of the time it's used at the beginning of a sentence, and it's usually used for no reason.  Finally implies that you've been waiting a long time for something, or that something has lead up to this point.  Writers tend to use it to imply that an amount of time has passed, which is poor word choice.
  • "I looked in the mirror and saw [insert description of features]."  I wrote an entire post about the character-looking-in-mirror cliché once.  There's something you should know about it: it's stupid.  Don't do it.
  • Anything including the phrase "mere slip of a girl".  This is often used to describe small, slender girls.  Not only is it overused, but it also doesn't really make sense, when you think about it.  What is a "mere slip"?  What does that even mean?  And why do we never see "mere slip of a boy" to describe small boys?
  • Variations of "there wasn't anything special about me" or "I was just a normal teenager".  Let me tell you something about normal.  IT DOES NOT EXIST.  There are two wonderful monologues about this, and I highly recommend watching both of them.  It'll take about three minutes total, and trust me, it's well worth it.  They're right here and here (pardon the language).  Can we get a big ol' Celebrate Me Week "I am special!"?  (I highly doubt anyone will know where that's coming from.  If you do, you're cool.)
  • "The last thing I saw was darkness."  I've seen this sentence over and over, almost always at the end of a chapter, right before a character passes out.  My first problem with it is that it's overused, and it's becoming a cliché.  My second problem is that, I'd imagine (I've never passed out, so feel free to correct me about this), most people don't see darkness before they pass out.  They probably see what's right in front of them, or maybe some black spots.  As far as I know, there isn't a dark stage in between consciousness and passing you.  You just...pass out.
  • "His eyes were flecked with gold."  I've never actually looked at someone's eyes and noticed gold flecks.  I know it happens, but it's much more common in fiction than in real life.  Plus, it's annoying.  Why does every fictional love interest have to have eyes flecked with gold? 
  • Anything involving "his sculpted abs/chest/biceps".  Why does every muscular guy have "sculpted" muscles?  Is there only one word that we can use to describe muscles, or what?  I'd like to see some more originality in this area.
  • "I blinked my eyes."  Um, good.  Just curious...what else could you blink? 

  • "After X happened, my world would never be the same."  News flash: fiction is full of characters getting their worlds turned inside out.  It's the whole point of fiction.  Every character is somehow jarred out of their ordinary lives into a plot of some sort.  Not only is this sentence a cliché, it's also unnecessary.  This should be evident from your plot; if you need to say this, there's a major plot problem.
  • "When I saw him, my stomach did a flip."  Can I make another Angus reference here?  Okay, I'd like to keep this blog G-rated, so I won't.  But those of you who have seen the movie know exactly what I'm talking about.  If your stomach is doing a flip, this is serious cause for concern.  This is completely unnatural, and you should probably get that checked out by your doctor.
  • "As you already know..."  If you're using this phrase, there's a 99.9% chance you're infodumping.  I wrote an entire post about this; it's right here.  The one thing you should know about infodumping is that you shouldn't do it.  Nobody likes it.
  • Sentences beginning with obviously.  If something is obvious, why are you even writing it?  If it isn't obvious to the reader, make it obvious.  But don't add the adverb, because it's unnecessary.
 
  • "My heart skipped a beat."  Are you writing a novel or a Taylor Swift song?  Writers often use this to convey shock, or fear, or both.  Actually, if your heart is skipping beats, that is major cause for concern.  Like before, you should probably get a doctor to check that out for you.  Heart rates increase, yes, but my understanding is that they don't just "skip".
  • Anything.  That.  Is.  Written.  Like.  This.  For.  Emphasis.  Just.  No.  Can.  We.  Please.  Not.

What sentences annoy you?  How do you convey the same ideas in a new way?
 

Side note: There is a trailer for The Book Thief movie.  MY FEELS.  I'm really excited to see how this turns out, as its one of my all-time favorites.  At the same time, I don't want Hollywood to mess it up like certain other favorite books of mine.  Also, I'm a bit concerned because Death, as the narrator, isn't mentioned at all in the trailer, and he is one of the main points of the book.  And the last few seconds make it look like it actually has a happy ending!  If it has a happy ending, I'm going to be mad.  It's not supposed to have a happy ending.
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2 comments:

  1. Yep, I am pretty cool. Also, you should probably not put spoilers in your posts, even though I knew it was coming anyway.

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  2. Oh goodness, I hate all of these so much! (And meep! Weeping angels are my favorite fictional monsters of all time. Doctor Who is awesome! And so is Sherlock!) I really hate the "normal teenager" thing, as well. Who wants to read about a normal teenager, and isn't normal a completely subjective measure?

    Anyways, awesome post. (And The Book Thief? I wasn't too fond of the book, but Death was like, my favorite character in that. They better not remove him!)

    Have a blessed day! :)

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