Articles / On Writing

Divas on Writing: How to Spot Your Tic

We all have them, those nasty buggers that can suck the lifeblood out of your manuscript. The writer’s tic. Most times you don’t even see the tic until someone points it out, most likely your editor or pre-reader. You feel embarrassed, stupid, and scolded like a naughty child after your manuscript is ripped to bits because of those pesky tics. That’s the hard things about writer’s tics, you usually have no idea they have them, but when they do discover these little gems, facepalming follows soon after. Along with a healthy dose of antibiotics.

There are always ways to help find your tics and fix them before it’s too late.

  • Search for redundant words or phrases.

I wrote an article about this here. Eliminating many of these words and phrases can elevate a big portion of your writer’s tics. Most authors abuse repetition more times than not, especially phrases. Your audience can only read that your character bowed his head, looked up, or started something so many times.  Recognizing these repeated phrases can make all the difference between a so-so book and a good book.

  • Run-on sentences

As authors, we can be very long-winded. That doesn’t mean our sentences have to be. The never-ending sentence can be a terrible tic for many writers. Having so much to say in one simple sentence isn’t always enough, the trick is to figure out how to not overdo it. Get familiar with comma splices, compound sentences, fused sentences, and how to use colons, semi-colons, and em dashes.

  • Creative dialogue tags

Yep, these are tics. The more creative, the more parasitic. One guideline to follow with dialogue tags: if the tag can’t physically be said by the mouth, it’s not a tag. For example, countered, instructed, chided, and pleaded to name a few.

  • Setting time in narrative

If you’re writing in past tense, the word now shouldn’t be used. Ever.

  • Head hopping

This only applies to authors writing in third person. Making sure you have a clean line of which character is speaking, feeling, and thinking without getting jumbled is hard enough to keep straight. When you throwing two character in the same paragraph interacting and the reader is in both of their heads, thing start to get fuzzy. Or schizophrenic.

  • Sentence structures

Besides run-ons, tics can also reside in simpler sentence. Overusing pronouns in place of character names is a prime example. Also overusing introductory phrases, prepositions at the end of sentences, participle phrases, and choppy sentence structures.

  • Asking too many questions.

Authors love to have their characters ask questions in narrative. But how much is too much? (See what I did there? Did ya?)

  • Laughing and smiling

To show a happy character, there are other ways to reveal it besides laughing and smiling.

  • Idioms

Ugh, do I even have to mention these? Yes, idioms are overdone. Stop it.

  • Cliches, cliches, cliches

Idioms evil stepmother, cliches could arguably be the devil in disguise. Rob Hart has a good article called The Top Ten Storytelling Cliches Writers Need To Stop Using.

If you find that you’re afflicted by some of these tics, don’t fret, your manuscript can be saved if you get help before the infection spreads. Write Divas are always here to help fight that nasty writer’s tic no matter how infested your manuscript. Coming to terms  and recognizing your tic is only the first obstacle.

(On a side note, I wrote this while The Walking Dead was on in the background.)


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