This will be the first time I’ve repeated a blog, but I find it necesssary. In the past 24 hours I’ve reviewed two manuscripts that–although pretty good–violated this principle far too boldly for my taste. One infraction was a lip-chew in the first chapter and the other was a skipped heartbeat on page two.
If you read this a year ago when I first posted it, it won’t hurt to read it again. Your heart might even skip a beat at the wisdom here.
From April 2010:
First, let me say that I compiled this list at least two years ago…so if I’m your editor, please know that this list was not the result of something YOU did.
That said, here is my pet peeve about some mannerisms in fiction.
How often do you really shake your head? Or swallow hard just because you’re nervous? Does your heart really skip a beat when you’re in love? (If so, you should see a cardiologist right away).
Sorry, I’m still stuck on the mannerisms in a novel I recently read. The author has at least a dozen occurences of someone shaking their head when they say no to something:
Maggie shook her head. “Only the doctor can help now.”
But do people shake their heads all that often? I don’t think I ever do. I know the reader will “get it,” so when I edit a novel with shaking heads all over the place, I may leave a few instances…but I’m certainly going to cut back in frequency. It just doesn’t happen that often in real life. Besides, it sounds hollow and very unimaginative.
Here’s my list of the trite mannerisms I do not normally allow to be repeated in the fiction I edit. (Maybe once. Maybe even twice…but thrice? He shook his head decidedly no.)
Feel free to add your own suggestions. I’m all ears (he said as he raked his fingers through his hair).
knitting of brows
lip biting, chewing, or gnawing
hair raked through his;/her fingers
heart skipping a beat
swallowing hard when nervous
blood draining from the head
lifted or arched eyebrow
narrowing of eyes
shaking of head
muscles in the jaw twitching
tucking a tendril of hair behind her ear
eyes fluttered open
every muscle in her body tensed
covering mouth with hand
lifting the corners of the mouth
pushed a smile up from his lips
clearing his throat
letting out a slow breath