Oh, how I love to “grind my teeth.” Crutch phrases and everything else in between…

First post in my blog series: “What I learned from my editor in the first 60 days.”

I picked my favorite lesson out of the list because I can’t help but laugh every time I see it. “Oh, how I love to grind my teeth” or as it were “Oh, how my characters loved to grind their teeth.”

Being a new writer has its challenges. It is a learning process every step of the way, and thank god for my editor, Heather Howland at Crescent Moon Press. She has held my hand through editing Soul Reborn and its journey to publication. I can’t thank her enough.

Yes, writing about emotion and the display of it is very difficult for a new writer. Whether it is inexperience or laziness, we use phrases over and over and over again. Apparently, my idea of showing frustration was teeth grinding and jaw clenching. My hero, Asar- Egyptian God of the Underworld, is a very intense character, angry and bitter. Poor guys soulless. He gets very frustrated with the heroine, Lilly. She is a serious distraction from his quest for vengeance. For as many times as he ground his teeth (67 occurrences) and clenched (19) his jaw, he would have nubs for dentition and TMJ by the end of the story. A dentist’s nightmare.

Lesson one: Find other body parts and gestures to display negative emotion.
As humans, non-verbal body language is a very important component of communication. It conveys how an individual may be feeling with or without verbal stimuli. It includes body posture, gestures, facial expression and eye movements. Research suggests anywhere between 60-90 percent of our communication is non-verbal. We process these non-verbal cues on a subconscious level. Astounding!

Whether we are using gestures, body posture or even the distance we place ourselves from another individual all conveys some meaning. Some unintentional gestures can act as a lie detector. Using these concepts in our writing empowers the characters, makes them real to the reader. Okay, easier said than done. Right?

How did I solve my problem? I decided I need to make some observations. What better place to pick up on negative non-verbal communication than the metro station in DC. Not a whole lot of verbal communication goes on between strangers in this environment and who wouldn’t be frustrated packed into a metro car with millions of other people invading their personal space.

Frustration cues
Arms crossed over chest
Rubbing/scratching the back of the neck/head
Running fingers through the hair
Short breaths exhaling in small puffs through nose
Clenching hands
Pointing one index finger
And yes, clenching jaw and teeth

Mix these gestures with facial expressions, body posture and verbal exchange and your character comes alive.

What is your favorite crutch phrase? What have you learned about yourself in your writing process? Please take a moment to share…



Filed under Lessons in 60 days

23 responses to “Oh, how I love to “grind my teeth.” Crutch phrases and everything else in between…

  1. Marlene Castricato

    I laughed myself silly, picturing your dark souless hero in a dentist chair. Very well done!

  2. I just have a terrible habit of starting sentences with and and but. However, a friend of mine was famous for mentally cringing I couldn’t get the visual.

    Great post, Jean!

  3. I really, really, really like to use the word “really.” I have to do a manuscript pass-through just get really get rid of them. Jaw-clenching is a big favorite with my characters, too.

    • Yes, now that I’m working on the second book in the series (Soul Awakened) I’m making a conscious effort to avoid the same mistakes, but oh how I love the clenching or baring of teeth.

  4. Hi Jean,
    My stepson came home with a book from college titled, ‘The Definitive Book of Body Language’ by Allan and Barbara Pease. I devoured it and took lots of notes to help me remember other ways to show emotion.

  5. Bahahahaha, ask Heather about my word association problems. I used the word jaw about a gazillion times. We even had a chat one night about it. And I realized that I was picturing the movie “Jaws” in my head while I was writing. You know when the shark opens its mouth and a whole other set of teeth come out. Anyway, everyone had a jaw in my book. Not a cheek, not a chin, not a face, it was a jaw. That’s what I get for fixating on vampire and demon teeth. Lol. Great post!!!

    • Rachel,
      I’m laughing as I write this reply and very glad to know that I am not the only one fixated on “the jaw.” I didn’t mention in my original post, but I loved to “narrow” everyone’s eyes. They were squinting and also gazing through the whole book.

      Thankfully, after a lot of hard work all of those crutch phrases were removed, but it sure is fun to talk about.
      You have to just stop and laugh at yourself once and awhile 🙂

  6. shawnlpn1

    My characters are always narrowing their eyes. Heroine is supsicious? Her eyes narrow. Being sacrcastic? Eyes narrow. I swear, I probalbly used that phase a million times in one story.

  7. My characters like to sigh … and take a deep breath. Plus, I’ve learned that I like to use “felt.” Now, I do a search for “felt.” For example, “He felt an ache.” Ah … “He ached.” 😉

    • Louisa,
      I’m there with you. I think we use these words because they are familiar and comfortable for us. We may key in on these gestures in our own conversations and thus tend to use them more in our writing. I keep a list of my most fequently used words at my desk as a reminder to keep it too a minimum. You bring up another good point: words such as felt. Next week I’m going to touch upon passive writing, as this was another big hurdle for me.

  8. I have a similar problem in that I need to find physical ways for my characters to express emotion. Instead of saying he clenched his jaw, I would say “He looked angry.” Not very dynamic!
    The fabulous Heather Howland helped me out too. Now my characters frown and put hands on hips and roll their eyes instead of just “looking” like they feel something.

    • Jennifer,
      You bring up another very good point, one I struggle with as well. Telling versus showing. Funny, how crutch phrases infiltrate the other aspects of our writing.
      Just wait until I get to my blog about dialogue or what Heather would call my “ping pong match.” LOL

  9. LOVE your post. Great insight for other writers.

  10. Aww, Jean. I seriously heart you for this. Same with the rest of my ladies who have shown up to share their quirks. We all have them. The only thing that matters is recognizing them for what they are, laughing about it, and writing something better. Here’s to even better books in the future!

    • thanks Heather. And thank you to all who commented. As a group we can learn and grow together. My hope is that sharing this information will help other writers to avoid my same mistakes. Thanks for being such a great mentor.

  11. Tamara

    What a great post. I also struggled with an “eye narrowing” issue, along with far too many furrowed brows.

    An astute reader-friend recently pointed out my overuse of the word “peel” in my MS. I’ve got people peeling themselves off the floor, peeling off articles of wet clothing, banana-peeling on icy surfaces and cars peeling out of driveways. Of course, I also had to include a “peal” of laughter. Apparently, I like the word, and it has more uses than I ever stopped to consider. But now, it shall be used once. Okay, maybe twice.

    • Tamara,
      It funny how we focus in on one word. It is comforting to us some how. Some of the others I ‘got caught’ overusing were ‘no sooner did…’ I also had a standard format. – (name) (does something) in (emotion).
      At least once we identify these flaws, our writing will strengthen.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  12. I think we all have our own little crutch phrases. I, like Jean and Shawn, focus a lot on eyes and gazes. Not sure why. Maybe it’s because when I picture the scene and characters in my head, the eyes are what I focus on most. I think they can tell a lot about a person and what he/she is thinking or feeling. The hard part is translating those feelings into words on a page. I think in metaphors, so that’s how I try to get ideas across.

    Like a couple other commenters, “with” is another word I use way too much. As is “back.”

    I love the Emotion Thesaurus at http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com . Check it out if you haven’t seen it.

    Great post, Jean!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s