Lisa Ricard Claro – Author

Romance is good for your heart!

Crunchy Gravel and Other Things to Avoid

Posted on Jan 21, 2011 by Lisa Ricard Claro   17 Comments | Posted in scbwi · writer's journal

The Jan/Feb 2011 SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) bulletin with the nifty T-Rex on the cover is zooming toward my mailbox and I realized I had yet to finish reading the Nov/Dec 2010 issue.  Ergo, I suited up for some uninterrupted reading, which means I brewed a strong, steaming cup of Starbucks instant coffee (best instant java ever, y’all) and donned my reading glasses.

SCBWI packed all kinds of must-know stuff about writing for kids into this magazine.  One article grabbed me: “The New Red-Haired Best Friend” by Joelle Anthony. In it, she offers a list of the 20 most overused things in middle grade and young adult fiction, things like “mean cheerleaders” and “tomboys who can’t sew or cook.”

We all have words, phrases or situations we tend to overuse, don’t we? Mine is “the crunch of gravel” when a character is walking. My writers’ group pointed out this overuse.  It is my go-to phrase when people are walking up a rural driveway. (If you read my story, “Fireflies”, in the newest Writers’ Journal you’ll find it there, much to my horrified chagrin.) Henceforth, I will go to great lengths to prevent doing so, possibly rigging a self-destruct code on my laptop whenever the words “crunch” and “gravel” appear in the same sentence.

No matter our profession—writer, baker, or row boat salesman—our voice should be unique. That means avoiding the trite and blazing new ground. For me that apparently means laying concrete on every character’s driveway lest they fall prey to the dreaded crunch of . . .well, you know . . .that word that means rock fragments or pebbles.

What are some of the most blatant bits of overuse you have encountered, either of your own making or in the media? What phrases or circumstances in novels/movies do you consider the most trite?

Off to concrete and tar new ground —

17 Responses to "Crunchy Gravel and Other Things to Avoid"

  1. Comment by Sioux Roslawski
    January 21, 2011 at 9:44 am  

    Lisa—Don't forget dirt roads. They deserve to be in your stories, too.In spite of the "trap" you set with the crunchy gravel road, I thoroughly enjoyed your story "Fireflies." I hope you can avoid gravel in the future; it would be a shame if we did not have your stories and posts to read, once your computer self-destructed…

  2. Comment by Laraine Eddington
    January 21, 2011 at 10:39 am  

    I'm afraid I like to use the phrase "heaving bosom" too often, but you have to admit it totally rocks! Oops, there's another one. I'm gonna go read Fireflies!

  3. Comment by Bookie
    January 21, 2011 at 11:24 am  

    Your characters can always tread on chert…Sometimes it is hard to get the swing right between the trite and too creative too. Reaching for a unique term sometimes is another undoing when it gets too "far out there".Might have a chance to get out today to a town with a book store!

  4. Comment by Sally
    January 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm  

    It is so much easier to identify other's overuses then to find my own. I like the idea of programming the computer to flag those moments. I'll have to give that some thought.

  5. Comment by Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy
    January 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm  

    You made me laugh again Lisa. I am going to need to start reading these journals that you are in and are talking about! You writers have a whole other world that I have never even knew existed.I wrote a book review yesterday, and one thing that bothered me in that book was that she constantly used the word "beat", in place of "hesitation, waited a second, after a moment" or ANY other word/phrase that she could have used. It seemed to be her trademark, but it bugged me a lot. I don't know what phrase or words that I overuse. I will need to keep an eye on that; but then again, I haven't begun writing non-fiction yet.Have a wonderful weekend!Kathy

  6. Comment by Tammy
    January 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm  

    I'm impressed that you only have one. And gravel does crunch! Sometimes I gag myself on my own cliches. Makes me worry about all of the things I'm NOT catching during revision. Great post, and thanks for the reminder.

  7. Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
    January 21, 2011 at 6:32 pm  

    Hey Sioux – Thanks! I may have to rethink the whole self-destruct scenario…talk about counterproductive! LOL I'd go out of my mind without my laptop!Hi Laraine – Ha! Heaving bosom! If you use it that means it will part of one of your hilarious blog posts, and that would be a good thing. I'll watch for it!Hi Bookie – You're right! My writers' group ladies, in addition to pointing out my gravel thing, also have called me out on descriptions that just "try too hard." God bless them for their honesty. And darn if they aren't always right!

  8. Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
    January 21, 2011 at 6:40 pm  

    Hi Sally – Actually, there is a way. If you have MS Word you can go to Tools, then Auto Correct Options. Type in the phrase/word to flag, and have it replaced with something like "!!!!!" and then every time you use the word or phrase the computer will automatically replace it with the exclamation points. A bit eccentric, maybe, but it will work!Hey Kathy – Surprising an editor didn't catch the "beat" thing. It is funny the things that we trip over when we're reading (and how many we miss when we're writing). Another reason writers' groups are so helpful…they catch that stuff!Hi Tammy – Trust me, I have way more than just that one! I wish that were my only flub-up. *sigh* It is nice to have a light shined on it, though, so we know what to avoid.

  9. Comment by Debra Mayhew
    January 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm  

    I read that article too, and thought it was pretty funny. But not as funny as you putting crunchy gravel in your love story!! That cracks me up!

  10. Comment by Margaret Bednar
    January 21, 2011 at 7:44 pm  

    …rig a self destruct code on your computer – that's funny. I might have to subscribe to the magazine. I'm going to check out "Firefly" now.

  11. Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
    January 22, 2011 at 8:35 am  

    Hey Deb – Yeah, I figured you'd get a good chuckle out of it, especially since you are one of the ladies who said "what's up with the gravel?" LOL It really is funny. Hi Margaret – Thanks Margaret. It is a good publication, lots of info and reasonable subscription rate. It comes out every couple of months.

  12. Comment by Linda O'Connell
    January 22, 2011 at 8:47 am  

    Lisa,I despise the phrase, "gone missing". You either went, or you're gone, or you're missing. Or is it just me? Just want to say congrats on your publication. Aha! JUST is my overused, useless word.

  13. Comment by Lynn
    January 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm  

    Obviously it couldn't have been that bad to have your gravel phrase in your story–you did win after all! Can't wait to read it – still haven't purchased it yet, but I will. Anyway, you're a funny girl. I'm sure I over use so many words one could not keep up. Ack.

  14. Comment by Eric 'Bubba' Alder
    January 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm  

    I'm picking up what you're laying down here, Lisa. But sometimes it the little phrases we repeat that make our 'voices' unique, dig?

  15. Comment by Nessa
    January 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm  

    Wonderful way to warn us of an all too common bump in the road.

  16. Comment by KB
    January 24, 2011 at 3:11 am  

    At the end of the day, I say at the end of the day too much 🙂

  17. Comment by tanyavalentine
    January 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm  

    Nothing!!! I don't repeat any words!!! Words aren't the problem!! exclamation points!!! Now there's a problem!!!!

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