Woops, I got sidetracked a bit trying to come up with things I want for Christmas, which gets harder each year. I’m lucky enough that I do not lack for anything, and my husband and I have always kept Christmas pretty modest (no £200 gifts for us), so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to think of things I don’t have already.
Anyway, on to this week’s question, which is Which mistake or bad habit is the most difficult to stop doing?
Depressingly, there are many, many mistakes I make a lot, though I like to think I’m getting better. The biggest one is that beginner’s error: overuse of adverbs. I’ve got a lot better at it – if you compare the number of adverbs in my first book with the amount in my third, I’d wager I managed to halve it at least. It’s just so difficult to not constantly further qualify the actions of your characters and rely on just their words or their deeds to bring across. Also, a plague on the word ‘slightly’. If there’s any adverb I overuse more than any other adverb I overuse, it’s ‘slightly’.
When reading the answers in the original post, I must say I agree most with Tracey Lynn Tobin. Yes, too many adverbs is a sign of telling rather than showing, but it’s ridiculous to say that you can’t use any adverbs at all. Sometimes the only way you can get across that one of your characters is saying something softly, is by writing ‘he said softly’. And doing something like that is completely different from writing “‘Oh, you must be soooo good at what you do,’ Sarcastic Pete said sarcastically.’
In fact, generalisations like that always rather piss me off. ‘Never use adverbs, it means you’re a terrible writer!’ ‘Never use the passive voice, ever, it’s as bad as killing babies!’
Anyway, back to the question. I’m not really sure what other mistakes I make – probably loads, but if I knew about them I would know to avoid them. Maybe not in the first draft, but certainly in the second or third. Otherwise I just generally find it hard to not completely overuse uncommon words, though I don’t know whether that can really be counted as a mistake. Two of my favourite words are ‘suffuse’ and ‘satiate’. I probably use them too much.
That kind of stuff is especially apparent when you’re writing sex. I’m in the middle of an erotic short story collection, and I’ll probably have to put a warning in the foreword to tell people not to read them all in one go, because you’ll get fed up with a lot of words very quickly.
It doesn’t help that while I like writing sex, I am very particular about the vocabulary I use. I like the word cock, and I can handle the word dick. Penis is too clinical, prick is just a word I hate. Sometimes I’ll get away with using shaft or erection, but there’s no way I’ll ever resort to things like the ‘purple throbbing love truncheon’ (my husband’s favourite) or ‘love-stick’ or whatever other horrible euphemism you can come up with. So my stories have a lot of cocks, the odd dick/shaft/erection, and nothing else. (Unless you’re Sita pre-Kai, in which case I’ll use manhood as well.) I absolutely hate the word clitoris (or clit, for that matter), so I don’t use it. Luckily I have a fantasy world, so I can get away with using ‘centre of pleasure’ or ‘pleasure nub’. There are probably people who hate those words as much as I hate clit, but they’re not writing my books, so boo to them.
Still, there are only so many times you can use the word cock before someone’ll roll their eyes and wonder whether there’s not another word I could use. This could be said of a lot of words, but to me it’s just most apparent when writing an entire book where the cast spend probably 80% of their time naked.
Another thing I do a lot is write really long sentences. Some people would consider that a mistake, but to me it’s just my writing style. Sometimes I look at a sentence and try to break it up into two or three shorter sentences, and it just looks wrong to me. It just doesn’t reflect the way I write, so again I’d dispute whether it really is a mistake to do so.
So, to quickly sum this up, I can categorically state that the one mistake I mostly make is to constantly use adverbs when I can easily get away with not plainly using them.
(And I’m evil enough that I hope that made you cringe! =) )