My 5 Repeat Offenses in Writing

We all have those crutches and quirks that weaken our writing, and I am no exception. As it’s generally good advice to be aware of your own weaknesses, I’m pointing out mine.

I don’t even worry about these vices during the drafting phase, but I’ve learned to have a keen eye for them in revision.

1. Filter Words

Hoo boy, do my characters feel and hear and see an awful lot of things.

“I felt”, “she heard”, “they saw”. These words pull a reader out of the protagonist’s head and put them back in the role of observer. It is a small thing, but it does weaken the sense of immersion.

I write these a lot. I’ve just learned to have a very critical eye while revising. (And my poor CPs also have to bear the brunt of my ruthless filter-word cuts when I’m reviewing their work as well).

2. Everybody Murmurs

We all have those words we like to use way too much. In my stories, everyone murmurs. Why? Are they trying to sound sexy? Are they sleepy? Who knows. I have to do a word search for “murmur” during revising and replace dozens of these little insidious words.

3. Overwriting

You know how in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo spends literally pages describing the cathedral?

I’m not quite that bad, but it can get close. I love adding in way too many details that have nothing to do with the story itself, just because they’re pretty. Or I will describe a character’s outfit down to the trim on the sleeves and the color of the stitching.

A well-chosen sentence can be worth three overwritten paragraphs, and I do a lot of trimming in edits.

4. Purple Prose

But the greatest wonders hung between the lights, dangling strands of glass shapes in every color imaginable, strung to ring against one another in the idle breeze that swirled about the cavern. Among the chimes lay bells of gleaming silver in various sizes, adding their clear voices to the glassy chorus.

It was almost a melody, but not quite. The faint whoosh of the wind, the tinkling of the bells, the soft clinking of the glass. Amongst the glittering walls, surrounded by the enchantment of this nearly-music, Cirelle lost herself for a moment.

Early draft of one of my novels

This goes hand in hand with overwriting. I don’t usually veer obscenely far into purple territory unless it’s intentional for a specific character’s voice, but I do flirt with it an awful lot. 

5. Flip-floppy Characters

I usually have a pretty solid concept for my characters when I start a story. I’ll do worksheets, make aesthetic boards, sometimes even do sketches. As a panster (discovery writer), I throw those well-developed characters into a situation and see where they take me.

Except halfway through a book, the characters inevitably settle into a personality different from the one I assigned them. They dig in their heels and say “nope, this is who I am now”. So I have to go back and rewrite the beginning to make them consistent.

So there they are, my greatest sins laid bare. What are your frequent blunders? Sound off in the comments below!

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