Monday, October 10, 2022

But It's Just a Tic!

 Q: Most of us have a writing tic or two, a word we overuse, a tendency to start sentences with the same word, a motion every character makes. Do you have one or a few, and, if so, what do you do to guard against them?


-from Susan


Yes, I do have a few. Let’s start with the infamous “just,” which pops up everywhere in the first draft. When it signals time it’s good as a placeholder but not as the final word of choice. When it means merely, I use it because merely sounds old fashioned, particularly in 21st century dialogue. I hunt it out as if it were a nasty spider, whacking it out or changing it to something else about 90% of the time. (Notice I didn’t say “just about 90%”?) Apparently, I’m not the only one afflicted with justitis. Get a group of us together over a beer and you’ll hear the laughter and groans when it comes up. All praise word search-and-replace technology!


During copy edits I am forced to see that I start far too many sentences with “But.” Sometimes I defend it because especially in dialogue, it works. But  Other times it’s best as a clause in the previous sentence. When I do that, I always precede the word with a comma, which seems to drive copy editors nuts. Why? I was an English major, but in comp lit. 


When it comes to motions I ascribe to my characters, I’m big on smiles and uplifted eyebrows. Too big. With the French series, I use a lot of shrugs, meaningful shrugs. People in my books run their hands through their hair, sigh, growl, have wobbly legs, incipient headaches, lurches of their hearts. Writing this, I realize I have underused itching, stumbling, farting, snoring, and sneezing. Must keep that in mind for the next book.


The core of the overuse of words and descriptive behaviors is just merely that  – overuse. In copy edits I can see where I got lazy or my imagination failed me, and I thank the editors for kindly pointing that out and even suggesting alternatives. Writing 75,000 words that hang together and tell a story is not as easy as some of our non-writing friends imagine. We soldier on, hunting down those moments when we got tired and lost concentration. Maybe I should start a fine jar and put a quarter in every time I run across a misused “just” or “but.” It might well fund my next airfare to France! 

Coming March 2023!


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Nicely said, Susan. It's good to know what to look out for.

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, Dietrich. Of course, there's so much more! I wonder what my Minds peers will come up with this week?

Myra Jolivet said...

Love it. Justitis. I have a few itis' myself.

Catriona McPherson said...

I'm a just defender. In dialogue or in first person narrative (which is the same thing) I use just because people use just. I hope we're still friends, Susan. Cx

cwilson284 said...

I'm definitely a "just"er, and an "even" er also. Some readers complain that I have a fixation with describing people's teeth and clothes ("Kitten heels"? What the hell are those? "Ombre bandage dress"? "teeth like mirrors"?) That goodness for global search, yes?

Josh Stallings said...

This great. Funny and honest. Thanks. I also have to many hugs and smiles and nearly enough farts. I try and work that into my next MS.