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A good editor will help you get rid of your pet phrases

I’m not sure where pet phrases begin, but almost every novel I’ve written has ended up with the overuse of some phrase or word choice that my editors and I try to find and remove before publication.

Now some pet phrases help define a character. One character might typically say, “you got that right” and another might say “goodness gracious.” As long as they aren’t saying these things on every page, these phrases help define them.

However, things get out of hand if all the characters in your stories and novels are saying, “you got that right.” What are the odds that would ever happen? Some authors become aware of the fact they are using a phrase way too often before they finish the first draft, while others don’t notice it until they’re in the editing process.

If I suspect I’m using a phrase over and over, I search for that phrase in my Word Document to see if it shows up too often. When it does, I go through the manuscript and get rid of it.

I thought of this today while reading a mainstream novel by a popular author. When the police or FBI investigators informed a character of some fact or event, the characters often respond with “did she?” While such a response could equally be a favorite of one character, it can’t possibly fit all the characters in the book. So, the phrase stands out because it has been overused as a response in the story. A good editor should have caught this.

I notice it because “did she” and “did she really” are phrases that I’ve seen in U. K. novels and films of another era and seem a bit out of place when they appear over and over in an American novel. The phrase, as far as I know, is not part of a fad in this country. If it were, you could use it more often, though it would–of course–date the novel.

It has always amazed me how often I can use what I think is a fresh and creative way of saying something, only to find out that I’ve used it twenty times already in the manuscript.

–Malcolm

 

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