Read This First!
McIntyre’s First Law:
Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong.
Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy #14: Everything’s in the right place!
If it were somewhere else, that would be something to mention.
A current pet peeve of mine is the ordinary event described as if it were extraordinary, because the situation is extraordinary. My hypothesis is that the writer overwrites the event under the misapprehension that excess results in intensity.
His heart beat in his chest.
Where else, ordinarily, would your heart beat? Your chest is where your heart is supposed to be. If you can feel it beating elsewhere, if it’s beating so hard you can hear your own pulse, if you’re seriously injured and you can see the pulse in the flow of blood, that’s worth mentioning.
I thought to myself.
Who else, ordinarily, would you think to? I can imagine writing a story about telepathy in which thinking to myself might be a challenge, but I can’t think of any other time when I’d need to mention that it was me I was thinking to.
She took off the cap on her head.
Where else would you keep your cap but on your head? If your character is wearing it someplace else, you might want to point that out. It could tell the reader something important about the character. Otherwise, just take off the cap already. If you’re being paid by the word, think of some better words to get paid for.
The taste of cold iron in his mouth.
Taste is something that happens in your mouth. If you taste something, it’s going to be your tongue that tastes it. Have you ever experienced tasting something that wasn’t in your mouth? It’s not that uncommon; one effect of some chemicals when they’re applied to your skin is that you can taste them. DMSO is an example. Where you taste them is in your mouth. If you taste them somewhere else, you’ve got something interesting going on. (You can’t have that idea; I’m using it.)
She looked down at the ground by her feet.
I particularly like this one. It’s a threefer. You convey the same information with “She looked down,” “She looked at the ground,” and “She looked at her feet.” If she looks down and she doesn’t see either the ground or her feet, you may have some explaining to do.
I was reading a novel the other day and encountered three overwritten and redundant phrases in one paragraph. This was one of the reasons I eventually gave up reading the book.
On the other hand, the novel was by a writer who regularly shows up on the bestseller list, so what do I know? Maybe we all should write using multiple redundancies.
I blog here every Sunday, and irregularly otherwise as the spirit takes me. You can find some of my science fiction at the Book View Cafe website.