So, the last book in my fantasy trilogy is set to release soon. Doing one final pass through “The King’s Sons,” mainly for proofreading purposes and to cut a phrase here or there that I don’t need—I’m looking at you, direct address—I’m finding some examples of what I like to call “writing tics.”
A writing tic is a word, phrase, or grammatical structure that’s fine in itself, but that you, personally, overuse to a point that becomes distracting. It’s your go-to, simple, easy way to express some emotion or some concept that you have to express multiple times in your novel.
Writing tics will be very author-specific, because each of us is different. For instance, in “The King’s Sons,” I have variations of “I know you,” all over the place.
I tend to use that phrase in dialogue, when one character is talking about his or her assessment of another. Here are some of the more prominent examples from the novel:
- “You can do this. I know you, and you can do this. On top of that, I’ll be praying constantly….”
- “I barely know you, but….”
- “There wouldn’t be a spell you wanted to learn you wouldn’t master. I know you, Kansten. You’d be a far superior sorcerer than me, which means I wouldn’t dare do something like this.”
- “Promise me you’ll look out for one another. I know you two. You’ll take better care of a brother than you’ll guard yourself.”
- “You would have gotten killed on your first assignment. I know you, and you’re not the assassin type.”
And that’s only some examples. It’s insane. It’s too much.
Worst of all? Almost of these examples come from different characters. It’s not as though I have one character specifically who tends to talk that way. That would make sense in its way.
Now that I realize this use of “I know you” is something I do too much, I’m paying close attention to it when it crops up. While I’m keeping some examples–like the first one, because I really like the emphasis on how the woman speaking is trying to help her husband feel confident–a number of them aren’t difficult to do away with. Observe:
- “There wouldn’t be a spell you wanted to learn you wouldn’t master. You’d be a far superior sorcerer than me, which means I wouldn’t dare do something like this.”
- “You would have gotten killed on your first assignment. You’re not the assassin type.”
So, that’s a writing tic. I’ve developed a quick and easy guide for dealing with your personal tics in your writing.
HOW TO HANDLE YOUR WRITING TICS
- Ignore the concept completely when you’re writing a first draft. Seriously. Your only job when writing a first draft is to finish that draft. Your inner editor will give you enough problems without giving him the fodder of your writing tics.
- While editing, or even before, consider what your tics might be. What phrases do you use a lot? What verbs? Adjectives? Adverbs? You can make a list.
- Add to your list as you read through. When you notice certain turns of phrase repeating ad nauseum, add them to your list.
- Do document-wide searches for your list items. I got this tip from Melissa Foster’s site, www.melissafoster.com. She’s the founder of the World Literary Cafe. Without making a point of changing every single occurrence–because that’s just not necessary–cut where you can. (You’ll be surprised how often you can cut.) Try to reword in a natural way when you can’t cut.
That will help your writing flow better. It will improve your style: variety is one of the most important aspects of good style.