Things to Avoid

In the late ’90s and early ’00s, I noticed that the use of the rhyme “faded” and “jaded” appeared all-too-frequently in song lyrics and it made me want to scream. While (I hope) you don’t resort to rhyming in your prose works-in-progress, there are several words, phrases, and devices that show up in literature that I beg you to steer clear of. (Ending a sentence with a preposition is NOT one of them.)

1) Doing anything “with a start.” This phrase is most commonly used when a character wakes up. Has anyone ever used this phrase in real life? If it’s not said in life, it should not be said on the page.

2) “Ravenous.” In general, I’m a fan of this word. It always implies intense hunger, lust, or both (!). But, I see it so often in all genres of literature that it’s beginning to lose its impact. The thesaurus is your friend, which is how I assume the use of this word came about in the first place, and now it’s time to find a new “original” and amplified way to say hungry.

3) Describing silence as “deafening.” It’s not.

4) Wearing Cutoffs. Part of the reason why Tobias’ cutoffs on Arrested Development were so funny is because cutoffs in general are ridiculous and haven’t been worn since the days of Wham. Yet, more authors than you would think often describe their characters wearing cutoffs.  No gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc. are spared. Sorry, but unless your M.C. is attending a Village People reunion concert, painting a house in 90 degree heat, or is a never-nude, cutoffs are just not acceptable.

5) Prologues. This might be a personal preference, but I think using this device to tell your story should be abolished from literature. 99% of prologues can be turned into the first chapter and the other 1% can be revealed throughout the work in flashbacks, background info, character building, etc.

6) Pillow-fight fantasies. This is for the men out there who are attempting to write in the voices of women. Very rarely do I find a male author writing from a female POV who doesn’t make their M.C. get her period, masturbate, or look at herself naked somehow. Fellas, really? Do you think we all sit around drinking cosmos while talking about shoes and multiple orgasms too?

7) “Needless to say…” I attribute my dislike of this phrase to a former journalism professor who simply said, “If you don’t need to say something, then just don’t say it.” I completely agree.

Feel free to add to this list. I’m sure there are many more cliches and pet peeves to know and avoid.

11 thoughts on “Things to Avoid

  1. True, women do all of these things but they are rarely-to-never necessary to the plot and are usually things women don't sit around and talk about with each other. And even if they do, those convos can get cut from a book 99% of the time. It's gratuitous and feels insulting, especially when from a male author.


  2. Ad Pillow-fight fantasies. Are you sure about this point? I agree with general point – it is really hard to write from woman POV, but there are girls that stands naked in front of mirror, masturbate and (what a surprise!) get their period (because, you know, that's a period – it just keeps happening).

    There are many types of women out there – probably different from you and Karen “Never-nude follower of Christ” Akins.


  3. Tobias “Why do you think I wear these”
    George-Michael “I was never clear on that.”

    Great list! Now I'm seriously re-considering my prologue. I agree with you on the post that lead me here (the post from today .. or perhaps it was yesterday. I read it today.) Generally, I hate epilogues. Robert Jordan is the only person who's had epilogues that I felt were useful–but they probably could've been re-redistributed at the end of the last chapter.


  4. Just wanted to say to the first commenter that I disagree about scrunchies. Not sure where Commenter lives, but most girls I know wear scrunchies. Not every day, but they wear them. And several different kinds are sold at Wal-Mart – somebody's gotta be buying.


  5. I love this post!

    I agree about most of these missteps, although I mourn that you're trying to kill off “ravenous,” ha ha. Also, I have to make a case for cutoffs–not in literature, but in general. I really love them. I think that, if they are worn with a dressy shirt and some polished-looking sandals, they can be quite nice (only on girls, though.) ;o)


  6. Millss, you're definitely right about Vonnegut. It's true that prologues are not 100% ineffective, and like I said, it is a personal preference on my part. It's just that in most novels, I find them tedious.


  7. Emphatically agree, especially regarding prologues. Also, no-one wears scrunchies any more! Seriously, every time an author mentions that their hip young character puts a scrunchie in her hair to complete an outfit it makes me want to scream. No matter what American Apparel might be trying to convince us, scrunchies are out and they're not coming back.


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