Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday's Focus: Phrases That Kill

Are you a murderer? Do you kill your story with phrases that should never have been written?

Let's get down to some serious business about the writing process. As writers, we all want to catch our readers' attention with words and phrases that will build up the tension, sound great, even look pretty as we write them. But very often, our narration gets so out of hand that the reader is going to throw down the book in disgust, and possibly, never pick up one of ours ever again.

Here are some examples of what I mean by phrases that kill:

Her eyes followed him as he stormed out of the house. I'm sure you've all read this, or something very similar. But what kind of image that does produce? A pair of long-lashed eyes bumping along behind him? Really?

What about this one: His eyes were consumed with passion. Wait a minute...the dictionary says "consumed" means to use something up in such a way that it cannot be recovered. I wonder how he handled being without his eyes once his passion was over? Then there's this one: He claimed he was telling the truth, but his eyes said otherwise. Did his eyes learn to talk as a baby at the same time he did? That should have been interesting for his parents.

She dropped her eyes in embarrassment. Excuse me? I surely hope she dropped them on something soft, like a bed or a thick carpet.

Here is one I read recently from a book by one of my favorite authors: Unseeing, he looked out at the sun setting over the ocean. If he can't see, how can he "look out" at anything?

Here are some more phrases that kill:
Her emerald eyes mesmerized him. What was the rest of her body doing?
Her smokey eyes blazed with fire.  I guess her eyes would be smokey if they were on fire.
Her sultry voice grated on me.  Why? are you a piece of cheese?
His voice came from a long distance.  Long distance? That must have really been hard on his throat.
His eyes caught and held hers. pair of eyes must have been running away to have been caught by another pair.
Her heart sang with happiness. What song was her heart singing? OR:
Her heart wept with despair.  One can only hope her heart had a big hankie. ( Both of these are writers' favorites, and one makes about as much sense as the other.)
I thought to myself.  Excuse me, but to whom else would you be thinking?

Enough all ready! The point is...these are the kinds of phrases we writers need to be on the look-out for. A lot of Romance Writers use phrases like the above, and some even more, uh, descriptive in sexual tones, but I won't go into those here. After all, I DO have kids looking at this blog sometimes!

Think about YOURSELF when you start to write something like the above: would your eyes be falling out on the bed, or running down the street after someone, or would they be on fire?  There are other ways to be expressive, to spark the reader's interest without using a body part as the subject
of a sentence. It just doesn't work.

You are a writer. You are creative. Find another way to say the same thing.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Moving body parts! LOL Sorry, that's what I was told to call them whenever I find myself typing those exact words. Not saying I don't, I'm sure I still do, just not as much as in the beginning. You do have a point and it's very good advice for every writer to think about and retain. Unless of course you're writing those stories where the parts do fall out. :-)

    I found imagining myself and how I move helps to not put those words. Great advice Mikki!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Alix. I haven't used those phrases because I write for kids, and these are mostly found in adult books, but all writers use them at some point. It is a fun concept on one hand, and a kind of absurd one on the other! However, all writers, especially romance and mystery writers, should try to work around them.

  3. Ha ha, I'm still laughing at your catches! I've never used any of those either because I've written only picture books so far but you've given me something to think... and laugh about! Great post, Mikki, I enjoyed it!

  4. Thanks, Allyn, it was a fun post to write, but I have to admit, some of these phrases are the very reason I don't read romance novels. Romance writers overuse them to the point of distraction, and plain ole' disgust. But "moving body parts" are something almost all writers have used at one time or another, and it behooves us to be on the look-out for them, and find another way to express ourselves!

  5. My daughter would totally agree with you, Mikki. She takes everything very literally and makes me consider every word I speak.