Sunday, August 7, 2011


Boy oh boy is this article fascinating. It takes a look at how often phrases and words are used in fiction. Thanks to computers, that sort of thing can be studied. my thanks to Quinette Cook for calling it to my attention.

I know I have my overused phrases, and they often change with each novel. Along about the fourth draft or so I do a "tic" read and/or search, seeking out the phrases and words that appear too often. Then I call in the exterminator.

And on another subject, What are you reading? I'm reading Graceling (Kristen Cashore) and Ways of Seeing (John Berger) and catching up on the last several issues of Vanity Fair. On vacation, in other words.


  1. My characters nod and shake their heads so much they should all be in neck braces.

    What's really interesting in this article is how fiction writers use stock descriptions (nodding, arching eyebrows, etc.) to elicit emotional responses. As a reader, I like to be surprised, and as a writer I'm dissatisfied with my characters nodding--my characters could be doing more interesting things, more visually interesting things.

    You hear the recommendation to have characters doing something in a scene--maybe along with that we can try imagining what objects there are in a particular setting that the characters might interact with or fix their attention on.

  2. LOL@ Andy! I, too, wonder if the nodding, arching eyebrows issue results from inattention, fatigue, or lack of "seeing." Maybe a combination of all three? I love the idea of running a tic check on a WIP. My characters stare an awful lot. And they always do something annoying with their hair--perhaps a group visit to the salon is in order.

    Great article, Marsha!

    Reading: Ida B, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (H.R. Rookmaaker), Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, and the usual The Chronicle of Higher Ed. and random books on craft. :0)

  3. @Mellisa: Ida B is one of my all-time favorites. I'm using it in my thesis.

  4. Marsha, I'm reading a junior literary version of the Man in the Iron Mask and am drooling to read the original again soon. That Dumas guy has some swashbuckling stories!