Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Tic-ked Cathy Ace" said every editor I ever had

Do you have any writing tics (habits or problems which you repeat in your prose)? How do you deal with them?

Yes, I do. And. But. Very. But. That. But. And. Very. That. There you go – out of my system now.
Some things are true writing tics, some I see as habits of speech my characters use – there’s a difference. 

The tics are things I search for – hunting them down and getting rid of them when I can. But I still enjoy starting the odd sentence with “But”. And I reserve the right to do so (and to begin a sentence with the word “And”!)  Beyond that I do seem to develop a couple of tics with each different manuscript, and my editors tend to spot them – thank goodness, because I honestly don’t even know they are there. I read past them as I comb through the manuscript – or else I’m too distracted by all the Ands, Buts, Verys and That’s.

Beyond that, we all have tics when we speak – a turn of phrase, a favourite saying – and they work just fine in real life, but they can grate on the page. Thus, I try to use a character’s speaking tics in a spare manner, though I admit it’s not always easy and I often need an editor to reel me back in.

None of us is perfect – I know I’m not, and I also know I’m always learning. I doubt I’ll ever learn enough to become a totally tic-free writer, though. But I’ll try. And try. Very hard. There, that’s that. (Editor keels over, weeping.)

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER will be available in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and in November in the US/Canada, and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at   


Art Taylor said...

Thanks, Cathy! And it was a great column! But don't feel very bad about these tics. I think they're very common. And I do them myself--very often as well! ;-)

RJ Harlick said...

Yup, I do the 'But', 'And', bit too, plus a few 'just's and 'even's too many. I agree. Thank goodness for good editors. Good post, Cathy.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post, Cathy. Like you, I'm try to eliminate intensifiers (is that the word?) like "very", except in dialogue, and also weeding out starting sentences with "And/But". But occasionally it's the only way to go!

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks for the support folks....I fell very much better now. But, you know, each to their own! And I mean that most sincerely, folks ;-)

Sheila Good said...

Hi Cathy,
I had to grin at your post. I felt as if you were looking for my shoulder. I right there with you. Thanks for sharing.
@sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Sheila - glad I could make you makes up for all the teeth-grinding I cause my editors ;-)

Susan C Shea said...

I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't start a sentence now and again with But or And. I like fragments too on occasion. I don't call these tics. For me, the single most disturbing tic and one I'm coming up against today as I read page proofs, is the habit of using the same word twice in a paragraph or on a page. Lazy, I know, and something I tend not to see until it's staring at me in page proofs.