“Gosh,” he galumphed as he suddenly stared daggers into the mirror. “I’m quite the white brown-haired male in his late 20s, aren’t I?” He rubbed his sanguine charcoal stubble and jumped out of the airlock of his spaceship . . .
What’s in a Peeve?
We’re all guilty of writing crap. Whether we’re a bushy-eyed writing upstart or a seasoned, grumbling wordsmith- bad writing plagues all of us. For the experienced, we recognize things like bookisms and overuse of adverbs as the scaffolding they are, the proverbial rope bridge before the actual bridge is built.
We recognize them and we use them, quite shamelessly, in order to keep the flow of our creative process going. The main difference, though, is that we iron them out in later drafts. Here are a few of my (least) favorite writing pet peeves and why I think you should hate them with a passion as well.
First up to the chopping block are “sudden” and “suddenly,” two words that ultimately do the exact opposite of what they were intended to do. It seems harmless at first: we want to convey that something happened quickly or without warning, so surely, a word that is expressly designed to convey that would be perfect! But then we turn “He stood up” to “He suddenly stood up.”
Gods above what have we done?! We’ve turned a boring, undescriptive sentence into a boring, undescriptive sentence that takes longer to read, when our intention was to convey something happening faster. By virtue of “sudden” and “suddenly” even existing, they have caused a very real shift in the temporal qualities of the sentence. If we’re going to make someone read more, the least we can do is make it interesting.
Young Adult Vocabulary
If it’s good enough for your favorite young adult novels then it’s good enough for your own writing, right? Right! Pass Go, collect $200, get Boardwalk and Park Place for free! Make sure not to slip on that puddle of dripping sarcasm!
While I don’t have anything against the young adult novel, what I primarily take issue with is what seems to be the growing market for poor writers to peddle their wordslime. Young adult novels are not and should not be a lesser form of a “grown up” novel, so it stands to reason that “young adult vocabulary” shouldn’t exist because it should just be “vocabulary.” Even if your audience is young, to attempt to “dumb down” the language is to fail your reader or player right from the get-go. People are smart, and kids are way smarter than we give them credit for: they’re very good at context clues.
Last and definitely, certainly, absolutely, positively, ultimately not least is the overuse of adverbs. Similar to the, “Put a bird on it!” sketch from Portlandia, to verb adverbly is to adopt the motto of, “Put an adverb on it!” Adverbs are the pre-ground black pepper of the writing world. Sure, sprinkling on some adverbs will make a dish objectively more peppery—albeit a little stale and flat—but there are dozens if not hundreds other ingredients you could use to create a complex spicy flavor to your meal.
Why run fast when you can dash? Why think quickly when you could, instead, get inside the character’s head and show their thought process and panic to stress the, well, stress, of the situation? Adverbs can be great, but they should be used in moderation. To overuse the is to create a very boring sentence structure (not to mention unnatural dialog in a lot of cases!).
Go on . . .
Ask any writer and their list of pet peeves would stretch a mile, and the list of pet peeves they were guilty of committing would stretch two miles. I could go on, but I won’t. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’m certain that I’ve already landed on some other writers’ pet peeve lists with my own writing!
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