My Little Pet Phrases

We all have favorite words and phrases. We unconsciously use them because it’s easy. However, a sign of an excellent writer (and an intelligent person) is to be aware of and eliminate pet phrases. 🙂

Example: You’ve got to try this amazing energy product! Everyone who tries it says it’s amazing! They have so much energy! You’ll be amazed and astounded at how much energy you have if you try it. It’s so energizing that—(*brain cramp*)

Fiction writers, take note of the following overused expressions. Authors are oblivious to their blind spots. However, readers will catch repetitive expressions because they hear the words and see the motions—every single time. Repetitions can ruin a reader’s experience and make writing dull.

Interestingly, pet phrases are typically used to express an emotional reaction:

* His/her lips quirked

* He/she smirked

* He/she huffed

* He/she sniffed

* He/she shuffled

* Eyebrows rose/lifted/collided

* His/her brow furrowed/wrinkled

* He/she shrugged

* He/she growled

* He/she grinned

* He/she narrowed their eyes

* She put her hands on her hips

* He crossed his arms

All of these are fine to use… about five times throughout a book—not ten, twenty, or thirty times (I’ve seen it!). If characters have the same reactions over and over, it eventually becomes tedious or comical. The exception is if someone has an unconscious gut reaction when they are anxious/scared/angry/stressed, etc. But that can be overdone as well and turn the person into a caricature.

How can you communicate most powerfully and effectively? Identify what your typical “go-to” expressions are. Expand your vocabulary and develop new ways to describe something. If you are writing a book, use multiple ways to convey your characters’ emotions. You can utilize a person’s whole body, as well as objects/people/animals nearby. For ideas, go to a mall or park and jot down the variety of body language you see—and what you interpret from each signal. Readers love to pick up clues from the characters’ body language instead of having the writer spell it out for them. It’s intriguing because they are now part of the action!

Here’s a quick (made-up) example:

Brenda glared out of the doorway. She was so angry that she could spit. Why wouldn’t Manny leave her alone? She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at him. “Leave me alone! For the thousandth time, I don’t want to go out with you!” She growled.

Manny’s eyebrows rose as the side of his mouth quirked up. “Oh, really?” He said in a cocky tone of voice. He winked at her, looking like the cat that ate the canary. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out tickets to Brenda’s favorite concert. “These are for front row seats, babe!” He smirked.

Brenda huffed. “I don’t care.” But her voice was not as forceful as she wanted it to be, and she felt herself wavering. How did he know how desperately she wanted to go, but she just couldn’t afford it? How did he even know who her favorite singer was?

Here’s the same scene—eliminating excess words, clichés, and overused phrases:

Brenda’s fist gripped the door handle. Why wouldn’t Manny leave her alone? “For the thousandth time, I don’t want to go out with you!” She swung the door, intending to punctuate her words with a loud slam.

Manny’s boot halted it, and he easily shouldered his way in. “Oh, really?” He winked as he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out concert tickets. He fanned them with a flourish. “How does front row seats sound?”

Brenda’s eyes widened. Her “I don’t care” wasn’t believable, even to her. How did he know how desperately she wanted to go but couldn’t afford it? How did he even know who her favorite singer was?

There are multiple ways this scene could be written. But I hope you can tell how using creative visuals and tightening up the writing makes it so much more interesting!

Savvy Writer Tip:

We are creatures of habit, and we don’t notice how often we use our favorite phrases. When writing (anything), intentionally look for repeated words. For help developing your communication skills, use a thesaurus, watch the body language of people you don’t know (or watch movies on mute), and utilize resources such as The Emotion Thesaurus. You can also download editing programs that give you the exact count of your most overused words (you’ll be startled at the results).  Professionals—in all areas of life—avoid repeating pet phrases and express themselves in a fresh, concise, captivating way!  🙂