Now that I’ve been through quite a few edits with three different editors, I’ve learned a lot about what I’ve been doing wrong. I probably have more than three bad habits but for the sake of brevity, I’m sticking with these.
Habit 1 – giving inanimate objects life of their own.
I’m sure there’s an actual academic term for this. I don’t know what it is. And even if I did, it wouldn’t help me remember not to do it. Examples help though. Here are mine:
His mother’s head shook four times in rapid succession
This reads as if his mother’s head has a mind of its own and does a shimmy shimmy shake without the need of a pesky neck (or at least that’s what my editor was thinking).
I changed it to: His mother shook her head four times in rapid succession.
Jess’s expression remained placid while sipping her iced tea.
Jess’s expression is the subject. So…Jess’s expression is sipping Jess’s iced tea rather than Jess herself. *shakes her fist* THAT’S where all the tea went!
I changed it to: Jess kept her expression placid while she sipped her iced tea.
Habit 2 – Verb-to-verb
I believe this is okay once in a blue moon? There’s probably rules about it. I try my best to eliminate instances now that I see it’s a problem.
She tore her glare from the female to fix it on the male that had emerged from the office.
Do you see it? Here’s a hint: tore to fix
I changed it to: She tore her glare from the female and fixed it on the male that had emerged from the office.
Her hand dropped away from her cheek to land at her hip.
This one violates both of my bad habits. I fixed only habit 2 because this was from the hero’s POV though an argument could be made that I should have fixed both.
It’s now: Her hand dropped away from her cheek and landed at her hip.
Habit 3 – Writing action out of order
In my attempts to change up my sentences so they’re not always starting with the same five words, I often used the crutch of re-ordering events. Unfortunately this ends up confusing a reader because I’ve written it all backwards. Here’s an example:
“Mr. Hebert,” she politely greeted him with a blank expression fixed on her pretty face once she’d reached his table.
She (Sam) has arrived at the table with a blank expression on her face and then greeted Mr. Hebert…but you have to get all the way to the end of the sentence to learn what she did at the very beginning.
It’s out of order and forces a reader to put it all back in order once they’ve finished thus slowing them down. I’m sure slowing a reader down in places has its merit–for example if your intention is to create the sensation of something dragging on. But it doesn’t fit in this instance.
This ended up being: The witch reached his table. A blank expression fixed on her pretty face as she politely greeted him. “Mr. Hebert.”
So those are my 3 worst writing habits, what are yours?