When we’re writing a novel, it’s inevitable that some bad habits are gonna kick in. It’s universal. I do it too.
These are writing tics, and we all have them.
If you aren’t careful, your novel will quickly become an explosion of sighs, eye-rolls, or hearts beating out of chests.
It’s so important to vary up the gestures and reactions to dramatic events. Here are some very common generic reaction crutches:
- Looking, staring, and meaningful glances
- Eyes clenching shut
- Staring at the ceiling/sky
- Dramatic pauses
- Hearts pounding
- Crying/eyes welling with tears
- Dramatic exhortations (“Ugh!” “Blech!” “God!”)
- Stomachs lurching
- Throats catching
- Bodies going rigid
- Hands clutching into fists
- Faces going white
- Clearing throats
- Meaningless misunderstandings (e.g. Character A: “X!”, Character B: “What did you just say?!”, Character A: “I said X and am literally repeating what the reader just read!”)
A good rule of thumb: Do your best to use the gestures from this list no more than two or three times throughout the entire novel.
Yep. You heard me right. Three sighs for the whole novel. That’s it. Even better if it’s only one and it really matters that it’s a sigh.
I think it’s fine to use a unique gesture more often than this, like Dolores Umbridge’s “Hem, hem.” That feels more like a personality trait. Just use the generic ones as infrequently as possible.
What do you instead? Show your protagonist processing what’s happening. Infuse their emotions into the voice. Give them ways of reacting to things that draw upon their surroundings and their unique personality. Give them individual ways of reacting.
It’s far more interesting and you won’t make your reader sigh, eyeroll, and say a dramatic exhortation in the process.
See any crutches I missed? Take to the comments!
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Art: Chez Tortoni by Édouard Manet