Sunday, February 21, 2010

common phrases

He stood as still as a statue.
My face turned white as a ghost.
She was so angry, steam escaped her ears.
I floated along as light as a cloud.
He crouched low like a tiger.
She laughed like a hyena.
She had a face like an angel.
She had the appetite of a bird.
It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
My mouth was on fire.
Her skin was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
His eyes were as big as saucers.
She was so upset her face turned red.
She was as fresh as a daisy.

Recognize these common phrases? They’re expressions many of us use all of the time to describe feelings or emotions like anger, happiness, sadness, shock, joy, anxiety, etc...and they are way, way over-used by newbie writers. I know this because I’ve used some of them myself and without even realizing it – especially the face turning white one. Oh, it’s so easy to unconsciously slip these phrases into your story – they slide down the throat just like Jell-O.

I was at a conference last year when I heard an agent talk about how frustrating it was for her to receive manuscript after manuscript after manuscript with phrases like “knuckles turning white.” Gulp, guilty – my face turned red. It’s so very hard to be completely original, but it’s so important to try. Sometimes you can’t avoid using a common expression, sometimes they get the point across better than anything else, but I find that if I really sit with the idea of what is easy to say, and think around it, really dig in and turn those mind wheels until I’m practically sweating, I can, surprisingly, sometimes, come up with an alternative phrase. When that happens I feel really, really good and exhausted at the same time. Like hiking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro! – no? Like reading all the way through War and Peace and understanding the entire book! Better? Like lifting a car over my head with one hand! Like finally understanding a foreign language! Oh, you see what I’m saying. Writing is hard, really hard, it’s when you finally strike oil and discover that original, one-of-a-kind phrase that makes the whole process as sweet as sugar.

What are the common phrases you find yourself using more often than not?

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