Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Here a tic, there a tic… by Cathy Ace

 CRAFT: 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?

Found another one!
As a writer, I’m constantly trying to find the way to allow my true “voice” to come through on the page, without sending readers off on a rampage about how often I use a certain word/phrase. And, for me as a reader, that “voice” comes from the rhythms, vocabulary, turn of phrase, and even the pattern of punctuation, used by an author. You know what I mean – our fingerprints are all over our work: I bet you could read a book by your favorite author and know it was written by them without their name being on the cover, or their usual characters being involved.

That said…there is a line one shouldn't cross. It might be a faint line, indeed, it might be all-but transparent, and – to make things worse – it might exist in a different location for every single reader. However, I know that, if my overuse of “something” in my writing crosses it, I’ll have taken my reader out of the story - and that’s not what any author wants.

Shrugging, rolling eyes, winking, grinning…no, I’m not having a stroke, I’m listing the sorts of things I have to eradicate (or at least significantly cut back on) in my second draft.

Then there are sentences starting with BUT or AND, oh…and my favorite…my use of ellipses (which send my editor loopy!). I work hard to remove as many sets of ellipses as possible, by using different forms of punctuation, or even restructuring sentences and paragraphs. But then (confession time!) I allow some to slip back in during the final editing stages, because (especially in my Cait Morgan books, where there’s a personal POV) I want the reader to pause in their reading as my character pauses in her thinking.

“It’s a rhythm thing, so...” is one of my most overused phrases, appearing in emails to my editor with alarming regularity.

I have learned to use a universal search on my manuscript, starting with the words I overuse most, and on each pass through my work in progress I challenge myself to introduce more varied patterns of speech, or vocabulary. BUT (and it’s a BIG BUT!) I don’t want, for example, speech tags to always have to be changed from “s/he said” to “s/he interjected/squealed”, or any other irritating alternatives that make you believe the author ate a thesaurus for lunch. That bugs me.

There, I’ve said it.

Do I have tics? Oh boy, yes I do. Do I work hard to get rid of them all? Indeed. But do I allow enough to remain because they “feel” right to me? Absolutely.

 All I can hope is…that I get the balance right.

If you want to be able to form your own opinion about all this, why not try some of my books?


Catriona McPherson said...

If it wasn't for the pesky plagiarism thing, I would copy and paste this for my blog tomorrow. This is me. The ellipsis, the "stet for rhythm" notes back to my copy-editor, my cult-member-like allegiance to "said" as a tag . . .


Cathy Ace said...

Catriona...yes, I get it...LOL! Cx

Josh Stallings said...

I am Shrugging, rolling my eyes, winking, and grinning at your post. Mostly nodding in agreement. Why do editor hate …ellipses? Please tell me why? And finally in the words of Pee Wee Herman, "All my friends have bog butts."

Cathy Ace said...

Oh Josh - yes, why DO all editors hate ellipses?????? (And multiple question marks????) Cx