Hair and shoes.
I am told that all writers have ‘tics’. These, apparently, are mine.
As tics go, they’re disappointing. They suggest shallowness, vanity and a focus on the superficial. Where’s the profundity in shoes and hair? What deep meaning in a pair of kitten heels? (Note to self – check personal grooming, this could be a warning from my unconscious, going where my best friends fear to tread.) Perhaps it’s best not to psycho-analyse too much.
Every one who writes has writing tics – words, phrases or descriptive traits and character gestures which are repeated, without realising it, again and again. You don’t have to be a professional or full-time writer to qualify for some. Readers of this blog piece will have writing tics too.
Some of the most common are
- repeated words – ‘just’ is a good candidate for the most over used, but ‘also’, ‘always’, ‘very’ and ‘even’ feature frequently. Adverbs – quickly, loudly – can be over-used. Why write ‘spoke very softly’ and not ‘whispered’?
- Repeated phrases e.g. ‘not the least of which’, ‘time will tell’.
- Characters repeating the same gestures – I have a tendency to make my characters ‘set her/his jaw’ apparently, but other typical repeated gestures (not mine) include eye narrowing, lip curling and shrugging.
- Characters repeating the same actions – in ‘On the Frontier’ I often send characters off to get their shoes (in part because my young heroes would go about bare-footed for much of the time – well, that’s my excuse). Mary Wesley might win the prize for the strangest tic of this type, my editor tells me; in one novel her characters all open oysters and drink fresh orange juice.
- Repetitive descriptions – I describe characters’ hair. I was astonished when this was pointed out to me in an early draft of ‘The Village’ the hair of almost every character was described.