Thursday, December 20, 2012

Catch Phrases: Do they rule your writing?

Do you notice when your writing gets taken over by catch phrases?

Wait, what's a catch phrase? A catch phrase that you consistently use throughout your work(s). It might be a phrase unique to your writing, or a common

Are catch phrases bad things? It depends who's judging. In debuting novels, they can be seen as accidental and sloppy, instead of the planned clever touches that you might prefer. Fear not! Everyone has them. I have them even in Twitter - if you've seen my Twitter feed (@KristenJett), it's common to see a lot of "you guys" and tweets starting with "So [insert story here]".

Even well-known authors have their own catch phrases. It's not always a bad thing - but it can be distracting to the reader.

Lemony Snicket continually defines words and phrases by saying "A phrase which here means..." - which is clever for younger readers.

John Green fans might have noted characters being described as "green as summer grass" or characters often describing distance as "thousands of leagues."

Stephen King often relies on characters that are so nervous/scared/angry that they dig their fingernails into their hands until they bleed.

We all know novels that seem to repeat a particular word over and over again. If I say chagrin, dazzle, and murmurs do you know which YA series I'm referencing? Hint: you can watch some beautiful bad lip reading of it.

How can you look for catch phrases in your own work? Nearly all programs have the Find or Find and Replace option. Each time you notice an interesting phrase/word used more than once, use the Find to see out how many times it actually shows up in your manuscript. You may be surprised!  If you have Scrivener, text stats will show you how common each word is in that particular scene. Sites like WordCounter and Wordle allow you to paste in your work and see what words are most common. (Not surprisingly the words catch, phrase, and common are what I've used most in this article.) Wordle is great for visual brains as it creates a handy word cloud.

Wordle example of this post

What phrases are you fond of using in your writing?


  1. George R.R. Martin used the phrase "...and he was not wrong" over and over and over.

    Not YA but yeah...authors have their fallbacks.

  2. :) We're all human. It's just that a best-selling author's quirks aren't judged as hard as the mistakes by us beginners. Nice, interesting post!

  3. I think it's especially important to be aware of them at the beginning at your writing career, just to make sure your writing doesn't look sloppy. Once you're a best-seller, it's all free reign of course!