Monday, August 13, 2012

Our Signature Stupid Moves

We've all had moments where we found ourselves thinking, how (and/or why) did I do that?

Sometimes, we even find ourselves asking that question repeatedly - about the same thing.

I started thinking about this when my husband managed to lock himself out of our house yet again last week. It's something he does at least once a month, and I can't understand it for the life of me. Sure, everyone misplaces their keys once in a while - but not my husband. His keys are always in the same spot on our kitchen counter.

Yes, that's right. His keys are right next to his cell phone and his wallet, and yet he manages to proceed down to the garage (which is locked from the inside) having grabbed only two out of three (and a couple other things, granted), and not realize it until he's closed that (locked) door behind him.

Cue knocking on the door, followed by grumbling, disbelieving Gina stopping whatever she's doing to stomp downstairs and bring him his keys.

The first few times this happened, I thought it was totally unfathomable that it could happen more than once.

But then I realized almost everyone has a signature stupid move - even in writing.

For most of us, our manuscripts aren't "born" perfect. It takes the sharp eyes of some trusted betas and critique partners to shine them up, and point out the things we fall victim to over and over again.

For some, it's passive voice.

Others (clarification: myself) have love affairs with crutch words like "just" or "well." (I recently read a published novel where the phrase "just shrugged" appeared so many times, I almost screamed. For shame, editor. For shame.)

Which brings me to repetitive phrasing - AKA, wait, you mean "crap on a cracker" isn't as funny the seventeenth time as it is the first?!

Or maybe your characters exhibit the same physical reactions over and over, sighing and rolling their eyes so often they might as well be having a mild seizure.

Obvious favorite in a love triangle? Make the other boy a complete douche, and don't bother giving your readers the option to like him (ding ding ding! Me again!)

Still, maybe your claim to fame is changing a character's name or physical description mid-stream without realizing it.

Or, you could be a fan of my latest stupid move: thinking you're done or almost done with the project, only to go through the first half of the novel and realize there are at least two or three more scenes that need to be written before you can show this underdeveloped mess to anyone without a massive dose of shame.

So tell me, peeps - what's your Signature Stupid Move when you write (or otherwise)? Which ones do you notice in published novels that drive you up a wall (and do you notice them because they're your own?)?


  1. Signature dumb moves? Oh yes -- thousands of "justs" is one of my big ones. In fact, thousands of extra words, period. I also tend to use the same physical gestures so often they become a tic! (There he is, raising his eyebrows again!)

    I catch a lot of these through revision and re-reading. And thank heavens for beta readers, who can point out what I miss!

  2. Oh, geez. The justs. The repetitive actions. All of them. I've been noticing it so much especially with this latest WiP. Thank God for CPs, because I know as soon as I send it to you guys it's going to get beaten into shape.

  3. I am a total adverb over-user. And my characters bite their lips and roll their eyes so often it's a wonder they have any facial features left. But oh, my super long sentences... Yeah. Still working on NOT DOING THAT CONSTANTLY.

  4. I use a lot of crutch-words and repeat mannerisms (my MCs tend to smirk a lot). Thank goodness for CPs!

  5. Ha! The "mild seizure" bit made me laugh. And, yes, I do (or did) some of these things. Especially certain crutch words. I now have a list of my crutch words - both ones I've noticed, and ones it took my friendly critique partners and agent's comments to realize I was using. I don't worry too much about the words when I'm writing, but when I revise I go through my manuscript, searching for those words and eradicating as many as possible. It's amazing how important "just", "well", and "anyway" aren't.

  6. Oh yes. Crutch words and repeat gestures, especially. Sometimes I think "just" is my favorite word.

  7. I have more than one signature move, unfortunately. I include too much dialogue in my first drafts. And I use "sigh" too often, which makes it sound as if the characters are really depressed or something.

  8. Signature dumb move-- I don't know if I do this in writing as much as when reading, but the girl must always be paired with the first boy she's introduced to no matter how charming and sexy guy #2 is. If she switches sides, then it's almost like she's a tramp.

  9. Signature stupid move: commas. I still do this nine years after my first writing mentor pointed it out. Now I simply deal and know that I'll have to edit them all back out later. (Because, it's always, something, like this.)

    Loved your seizure comment!