I’m currently in the throes of a major rewrite. What started as tweaking has turned into an entirely different story. I didn't intend for this to happen but I wrote the manuscript years ago and I’ve grown as a writer.
As I worked, I noticed something about my manuscript. I had an affinity for certain phrases and they popped up on every few pages. You’ve heard of purple prose? I had purple phrases. In other words, those irritating, repetitive phrases that make the reader roll her eyes until she has a headache.
This isn’t only a beginning writer’s problem. Purple phrases even happen to authors who are New York Times best sellers. I recently read a book by a well-known novelist who used a phrase repeatedly in reference to the heroine's eyes: Her eyes were cornflower blue. Tears welled in her cornflower blue eyes. She glared at him through cornflower blue eyes.
All right! All right! I get it! Her eyes were cornflower blue! Geeze.
The phrases that kept finding their way in my novel were: A sigh escaped her. A sly grin stole over his face. She grabbed her throat. The throat thing was particularly noticeable to the point my editor asked why I felt it was necessary for the heroine to choke herself every time something upset her. When I read his comment I wanted to choke him, but he was right—sigh.
Another thing I noticed, my characters were constantly drinking coffee. Hmm, maybe because I’m usually drinking coffee while writing?
I knew I had to do something in order to keep from aggravating my reader, so I made a purple phrase list and taped it to my computer screen. This helps to remind me to keep escaping sighs and sly grins and throat grabbing heroins in check. And when I notice a new PP, I add it to the list.
What about you? Do you have any purple phrases? What are they? And what do you do to avoid them while writing?