Pet Phrases/Pet Words/Pet Actions
Authors have a tendency to develop pet phrases and/or pet words. With pet words the author is usually able to space the word out so it’s not as noticeable. Other authors seem incapable of this, so the readers will pick up on it. If I start to notice a pet word, readers will probably notice it as well. One author had a love affair with the word crystalline. A person’s eyes were crystalline, the air had a crystalline quality, another person’s voice was crystalline. Another author was fond of “just then”, which is really bad because both just and then are on the list of unnecessary words you want to cut whenever possible. I’ve also seen authors who were infatuated with “in the nick of time”, “quick as a cat”, and “lightning quick” or “lightning fast”. In a few manuscripts a ball of ice was always forming in the pit of some character’s stomach. It’s easy to fall into this trap because sometimes that’s the perfect word or phrase for what you’re trying to convey, but you have to make yourself aware of it. And yes, quite a few of the pet phrases have also been clichés. If the pet word or phrase is used for effect, it can work. (Like Gollum saying, “My precious” or “precious” in LOTR. Oh, haven’t I told you? Yes, I can be a geek. Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly…Oh, my!) You just have to be careful. You don’t want to turn it into the word or phrase that gets made fun of because you overused it for effect.
Then you have what I call pet actions. These are more along the lines of repetition. You have characters who are constantly shrugging, pursing their lips, sighing, crossing their legs and/or arms. Other characters are constantly glowering, smirking, glaring, huffing out a breath, or sucking in a breath. It’s different than an affectation the character has as a habit. I have a habit of playing with my hair, and when I sit, I often have to cross my legs or curl them under me because I’m short. But I’m not always rolling my eyes…yeah, not always. Frequently isn’t always. *grin* Your characters can play with their hair, bite their nails, pick at their cuticles, etc., if you establish it as a habit. But when a lot of your characters are always doing these things that aren’t habits, there’s a problem. Yep, been guilty of it and been called out on it. My beta pointed out that both characters in a particular scene sure were shrugging a lot. *headdesk* While you don’t want whole chunks of dialogue with no movements at all, you also don’t want to overdo it. And you do not want a lot of:
She shrugged. “Yada yada yada.”
He smirked. “Blah blah blah.
She rolled her eyes. “Neener neener neener.”
Sentence. Variety. You want it and you need it.