Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 26, 2011

Editing Pet Peeves

Laura Drake

We all have them.  Things that make us crazy, whether we’re reading a novel for pleasure or critiquing a colleague’s work.  We’re readers first, and I believe these peeves are forged by what we’ve read; like Chinese water torture they fall, drop by drop, until you notice them and continuing until you can’t see anything else and want to throw the book across the room.

Mine?  I only have two.  But they’re so prevalent in genre fiction that they make me crazy!

First - adverbs.  Sadly, happily, quickly, slowly, hardly, completely – please, just stop!

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes in the middle of a quick-paced action scene, it’s all you can do.  But I’ve read published works that use at least one adverb per sentence, and that’s just lazy.

You don’t agree?  Let’s look at it.  I’ll use my own words as an example.

“She quickly hopped into the bed of the truck as the cattle trotted up, curious.”

First, you can’t physically quickly hop.  Hopping takes as long as it does – you’re in the air most of the time, right?  Try the sentence without the adverb.  Does it lose anything?  I don’t think so.

Do a “find” in one of your chapters for “ly” and highlight them all.  You’ll be stunned by how many there are.  Go through them one by one.  Is the adverb needed?  If so, consider rewriting the sentence to convey the meaning some other way – perhaps with body language.  It’s much more compelling.

My second peeve is dialog tags.  The ONLY time a tag is needed is when more than two people are present, and the reader wouldn’t be able to tell who is speaking without the tag.  Many times, your character has such a distinctive voice that the reader will know from his dialog who is saying the line.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out in your writing.  You may be surprised.

I know - the pundits say, “he/she said” is invisible to the reader.  But if so, why put it in?

Please, please, don’t get me started on adverbs in dialog tags!

“Can we leave now?” she asked hopefully.

Do not go there.  I’m a big girl – I can take you out.

What are your pet peeves?  I’d love to hear your rant.

0 comments on “Editing Pet Peeves”

  1. Hmm, I agree to a point. But there are times when I get lost in dialogue because there aren't enough tags. Then I have to go back and figure out who's saying what. That is one of my reading pet peeves.

    1. Actually, I agree with both of you. While dialog tags are only strictly necessay IMHO to keep you from getting lost in a scene, I still like them here and there for emphasis.

      Ex: Marco pranced into the room, calling out "Good morning!" to the team.
      OR: "Good morning! " Marco called out, prancing into the room.

      The second is much more visual. What do you think, Laura?

  2. Most adverbs must go, that's for sure. I also cringe when new writers tell me there was silence. ie "She began silent." "Silence followed." "He said nothing." or "The room filled with silence."

    These empty phrases stop me dead in my tracks. Silence is an enigma that few people ever really experience. Try to not think for 30 seconds. It's hard. So when I see these phrases I suggest to the author that they fill the gape with what is really happening. Because, more than likely, the other senses are experiencing something.

    Great post, Laura!

    1. I know what you mean, Joylene. I tend to be a "tight writer" (sometimes TOO much) and this stops me too. It would be so much more impactful with body language - shuffling, squirming, etc.

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