Friday, March 25, 2011

Boost Your Repertoire

Have I got a deal for you! Are you stuck in a rut? Do you return to the same pet phrases time and again, use the same dull descriptors, useless interjections and weak verbs over and over? Do you wish your writing could be magically transformed into sparkling prose, witty dialog and engaging plots?

Well, wish no more. Just use the following chain letter to boost your repertoire of repartee, tête-à-tête, and parlez-vous. It's guaranteed to change your writing. You'll never be without the perfect phrase again.

Dear Author,

Are you stuck using the same few descriptions for your characters? Fret no longer! This chain letter is guaranteed to net you thousands of new descriptions in just a few short days. How does it work?

Easy! First, make a list of the five most commonly used phrases in your works-in-progress. For example:

"She looked at him."

"He grinned."

"Her eyes met his."

"He stared."

"She shrugged."

Then send a copy of this letter to the first name listed below (a writer who is equally discontented with her descriptive phrases). Add your name to the bottom of the list and send out the letter to five writer friends who will then do the same. You will receive 15,625 letters with 78,125 new descriptive phrases in a matter of days.

Do not break the chain! If you do, your novel will never reach the NYT bestseller list, your computer will die a horrible death and your creative muse will abandon you forever.

Yours truly,

The Next Great Author

Okay, so maybe this is a little over-the-top silly. But who among us hasn’t discovered some corny flaw in their writing, something we repeatedly do without knowing it, some inane idiosyncrasy that jumps out as us later in the bald light of day?

A few of us were lamenting our flaws on Compuserve’s Books and Writers forum when someone suggested we swap descriptive phrases as a way of injecting new life into our well-worn works. That’s when I came up the chain letter idea, and while no one would seriously send out the letter, it was still fun to trade our most over-used phrases among friends.

Care to share yours? It might come in handy for someone else. After all, one writer's well-worn phrase is another's inspiration.


  1. Apparently everyone in my stories does everything "Gently". Everyone sets things down gently, gently touches someone and gently bores my readers. :)

  2. Oh yes. I'm currently editing novel #2 and spotting all my repeated lines. There's a lot of shrugging, eye-rolling and saying things "dryly" (I'm British. Everything we say is dry :P).

  3. Libby - Hee hee! That's a great one!

  4. Lucy, Ah, the shrugging, eye-rolling, dry-as-toast British characters! LOL! Gotta love 'em.

  5. My own writing is rife with repeats. One of my favorite is "snorted" - seems my characters, when they can't find something witty to say, simply snort their response. Gah!

  6. LOL! Oh yes, my main character has a nervous habit of tugging at her cuffs which at times borders upon an obsessive compulsive disorder. And lots of hardening eyes/stares/gazes ... yikes, sounds like my lot need a doctor ASAP! (g)

  7. Rachel - I love the tugging! What a unique character habit. Er... not the compulsiveness of it, but what an interesting thing to associate with a character. :D

  8. I know it's an odd one, and not strictly speaking descriptive, but I really overuse phrases along the lines of "It was as if, somehow..."

    So, overly fussy modifier phrases are my thing...

  9. Love your letter by the way. I think it's gonna take off!


  10. Add my characters obsessively swallowing hard and frowning to the list. ; ) How do you show someone's upset and sad without these two standards? LOL!

  11. I remember this! And I just discovered a new one too - Rosa's always shivering. I mean, what? Why? I don't know. But she's always shivering.

    I bet Baha opens the windows or keeps her up on deck in the wind on purpose. Cos, you know, when she shivers, he gets to put his arms around her...

  12. Thanks for sharing these interesting tips and advice. Will be helpful during revisions!

  13. Adina: Oh, those phrases certainly count! Your example is a great one. :)

  14. Zan Marie - How do you show someone's upset? There's always the vein throbbing at his temple. [snort]

  15. My characters LOVE to do things softly. LOVE it. What can I say? I think it's sweet. (g)