We all have writing tics. Maybe your tic is a fabulous word that you love so much you use it on every page. Maybe you’re plagued by a dull word that your brain spits up when it can’t come up with something better.
Stephen King seems to enjoy “chambray work shirts.” My friend V likes the word “smirk,” while my husband F prefers “ersatz.” I’m partial to “swung.”
We usually realize these tics only when someone points them out. Then we must go back through our manuscripts and destroy the majority of our tics, so the few remaining “smirks” and “swungs” have the impact we’re going for.
I’ve had tons of tics, which I’ve exterminated with the gusto of a bug bomb. Gone are my “grins” and “gazes.” No longer are body parts “clenching” or “quickening.”
But one word has romped unfettered through three drafts. One word has breezed through my manuscript, fluttering pages and flattening my prose. I wish to publicly thank Doc Dennis Hensley for bringing this word to my attention last weekend at the MWW Retreat.
When we sat down together to discuss the first 20 pages of my BP, he handed me my manuscript and said, “Do you realize that your characters sighed a total of 6 times in just the first 20 pages of your book?”
Um. No. I hadn’t. When I did a global search for the word “sigh,” I came up with 17 sighs in the course of 275 pages. Almost every character sighed at least once.
So, I struck them all out, leaving only one sigh in place.
And it’s a mighty sigh.
In honor of my murdered sighs, here are all 17 for your reading pleasure. May they rest in peace.
He sighed and hitched up his baggy track pants, scuffing his sneakers along the sidewalk.
Junior sighed and followed him across the swamp to the boulder where the coach straightened and shook out his sodden pant cuffs.
No one said anything, and Max slid into the next seat with a quiet sigh.
“Aah, Kirkpatrick cookies.” Roy closed his eyes and sighed. “I wish my mom made cookies.
Chris sighed. Roy had the ability to make him feel more like a chubby loser than anyone else, even when he was holding his knife.
He sighed and stepped down from his stool.
Max and Beef wrestled in the mud, then sighed and fell apart, rolling onto their backs at Junior’s feet.
Junior sighed in relief and realized he had been holding his breath.
“Must we do this every year?” Six-Ton sighed.
She sighed as she worked to extricate her heels from the mud.
A sigh of velvet, a whisper, “Hey kid.”
He thought about the heli-twist he had performed this morning and sighed.
He sighed and chose the least ratty of the bunch.
The helmet slipped down over his eyes and he sighed.
Chris sighed, and barely had time to wonder what new torture awaited them today, before Charlie swung his pointed stick high above his head.
Chris sighed. He wished he were mean enough to tell Junior to go sit by himself.
He sighed and thought, It begins, dreading the crowds and the award ceremony and all the seasons to follow.