Crunchy Gravel and Other Things to Avoid
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 —