June 4, 2012

Top 10 Writing Pet Peeves

No writer is perfect, and perfection would be boring anyway.

I'm a big believer in keeping a reader engaged. Some mistakes, at least for me, bring me out of the story and back into my own head.

My Top 10 Writing Pet Peeves

This one annoys me, because I don't get it. The words are just so different. Chose/choose bugs me, but I can understand why people confuse them. Although I guess you can lose something that gets too loose. Hmmmm.

Similar Sounding Words
Examples: there/they're/their, its/it's, you're/your, two/to/too

The spell check function fails this test. I get it. When you are typing fast, you might accidentally use the wrong one. If you know you make these mistakes often, do a Search and Find as part of your editing process and make sure these words are used correctly.

Mark Twain (from Wikipedia)
Overuse of Very
Using very gets old very quickly. I love the Mark Twain quote, "Substitue damn every time you're inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."  Rarely is "very" needed (with the exception of dialogue).

I. Hate. This. Word. Why? It is not a word. It's a double negative, and actually means not having no regard. So irregardless would technically mean having regard. Are you confused? Me, too. To me, it would be like saying irrelevantless.

Too Many Ellipses in Dialogue
I like an ellipsis for dramatic effect within story (or a blog post). However, I don't like line after line of dialogue with ellipses. Yes, it is a good indicator of someone being interrupted, but if someone is interrupted line by line, I think the conversation should be over. I know I would clam up by then.

Also, some writers use it to show pauses when a simple comma will do.

Unnatural Dialogue
Speaking of dialogue, I want it to sound like two people talking. Good dialogue should read fast and true. It shouldn't read like prose. And rules that apply to good writing, do not apply to good dialogue. People speak with words writers are told to avoid: just, that, very. Even irregardless. Furthermore, if you craft a teenager, don't have them speaking like an adult.

Read dialogue out loud to catch awkwardness.

Using the Word Believe Too Often
If a writer is using first person point of view, "I believe" is obvious. If the narrator is telling you about other characters and using believe, the reader doesn't know for sure what the narrator really knows. Do we just take the narrator's word for it?

Example: "I believe ghosts haunt the house up the street. My friend believes they don't."

If I is the narrator, we know he/she believes it simply by stating it. And we can't know for sure that the friend doesn't believe in ghosts, unless the friend character says it or the narrator shows why they don't think the friend believes it.

Am I making any sense?

Using Spell Checker as Editor
The spell check feature is awesome, and it will save you from typos and misspelled words. It will not save you from #1 or #2 above. Or some typos, like typing form for from. Use it, but don't let it be your editor.

Too Many Characters with Similar Initials
Maybe it's because I read at night, or maybe it's because I have three kids, but I can't keep it straight when Molly loves Max who was once wed to Mindy who fights constantly with her sister, Melissa. Oh, and Mike is falling fast for Molly, but Mindy is jealous.

This is the worst. I'd rather an author own a mistake throughout, or own a style that I might consider wrong, than to switch back and forth. Confused as to whether to use the oxford comma or not. No problem, pick a way and run with it.

Example: I recently read a book where a main character was Molly for half the novel and Mollie for the other half.


While I was compiling this post, I thought of 5 "Mistakes" I Like in Writing. I was going to include it, but decided to tease you with it instead. That post will appear on Thursday.

What is your biggest writing pet peeve? Or, what mistakes make you cringe when you are reading?

Note: I edited and edited this piece, terrified I'd make a mistake. There's nothing like writing a post about mistakes that contains mistakes. I hope it's as error free as possible.


Unknown said...

My biggest disappointment in reading writing is boredom. Blah writing sends me to sleep. Yours was not and that's great! I also love the look of your site. Carming.

Elise Fallson said...

I agree with a lot of your pet peeves even if I've been guilty of committing a few. (; One writing peeve that got me recently while reading a paranormal book was the overuse of the exclamation point! The author used them all over the place! And it got really distracting! I wish her editor would have caught that.

Tia Bach said...

I agree about boredom. That will kill a story quickly.

Elise, I haven't seen the ! overly abused in a novel yet, but I can see how it would get extremely annoying.

Jo Michaels said...

People don't understand an ellipsis means something left unsaid. I blame it on today's textspeak teens. Another pet peeve is the em dash overuse. Drives me BANANAS. If you feel the need to interject thoughts constantly, rethink your text. Excellent post. WRITE ON!

Peggy Lee Hanson said...

Like I like your 10 list, Tia. All kidding aside, your #1 is at the top of my list, too. The alliterations of Molly and Max made sense as well. The difference of Molly and Mollie was just bad editing -- or none at all. Looking forward to the next post of mistakes you like ;-)

shawn said...

Good examples of pet peeves. Also, I was taught to never start every sentence with the word I.

Robbie Schlosser said...

Hi Tia,
Your photo of Mark Twain caught my eye. Nice quote, too. High on my list of peeves is WORDINESS. My favorite quote from "The Elements of Style" urges writers "that every word tell". It hits home. I seem to know too many words and want to use them all whenever I write.

Tia Bach said...

Jo, I agree re: ... and em dash (both of which are executed differently, too). When used well, they are great!

Peggy, I love alliteration, just not with main character names. My brain is too overtaxed to keep it sorted out.

Shawn, That's what makes writing first person so hard, too many I starts.

Robbie, I agree, although I find myself guilty of this word sin from time to time (like this sentence). :-)

bookworm said...

Will tattoo this post on my right arm so I can see it while typing. I'm guilty of some of these!!!! Yes....irregardless, I will try harder to edit myself.

You may want to stay away from historical novels set during the reign of the Tudors. Apparently, every woman back then was named either Anne, Elizabeth, Mary, Margaret or Katherine. It drives me crazy.
Excellent post. (no exclamation point). Where does the period go? Aaaarhhh.

Julie Glover said...

GREAT post, Tia! You know I'm a word (and grammar) girl. Sometimes I need to turn off the Microsoft Word editor because it is clueless. I would rather rely on my own knowledge of language usage. Your list is great. I'm eager to read your Top 5.

Tia Bach said...

Alana, You are too funny. Thanks for the chuckle!

Julie, Grammar geeks unite! I like rules, but some are meant to be broken (some simply aren't!).