Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fiction Peeve #476

Hello, I'm Tom Hardy. And I have the most adorable ears in show business.

We all have our peeves when it comes to bookish stuff: this cliche, that trope, this device, that plot arc.

I have lots of peeves. I try my damnedest not to put them in my books.

Some of them are silly. I don't like certain words, for instance. I don't use the word "stinky" if I can help it. I hate that word; I hate how it looks on the page, how it sounds coming out of a mouth.

Some other words I dislike irrationally:

the phrase "to boot" or "for heaven's sake"
the internet expressions "welp" and "all the feels"

I could go on. I will not. It'll make everyone self-conscious and wonder WHY I have these tics and I really don't know why. They're really just some snobby visceral reactions I've developed over the years. Writing poetry makes one sort of sensitive to diction, I guess.

However, here's something that could be eradicated from all novels henceforth:

"I pushed the thought from my mind. I couldn't think about that now."


I cannot stand this kind of phrasing. I get what the author is trying to do; she's trying to change the subject, transition to the next thing, show that her character must get on with other concerns. Fine. Yes. That's good.


You cannot 'push' thoughts away. You can compartmentalize, you can try to focus elsewhere, you can change the subject of conversation. But thoughts persist in one's brain. They hover in the background, running unawares, keeping your body at a low grade of anxiety or stress or anticipation or anger or whatever the fuck. They don't get pushed away; that's nonsense you learn in yoga class where you're trying to meditate. Notice how the thoughts keep coming, even when you're sitting in the savatsana pose and wishing they'd just stop floating across the sky of your mind like annoying fucking clouds?

Wish all you want. Thoughts don't get 'pushed' away, regardless of how much we wish they would. And I have NEVER read this dumbass phrase in a book where the narrator was finishing up her yoga class and making a concerted effort to push her thoughts somewhere else.

In addition to this not being how I understand actual thinking to function, it's a boring and shopworn phrase. It shows that you need to sharpen up your prose skills a bit so that the movement from internality to externality is less of a leap. It may be a matter of mixing more action sentences with thought sentences in a paragraph. Which is definitely a fix I recommend, because if you are pushing thoughts away, I can see your writer pantylines, as it were. I can see how you, as the author, now want to jump from this issue to another, and I shouldn't see that. I know how that feels, and that we have that urge, while drafting. But I should not be aware of the leap. I should just follow you, instead of having to hop over a big puddle.

So, ergo, hence, thus: find another way to show that the character wishes a thought would behave like a daemon running in silently in the background of her mind's computer. That, or transition to the next topic. Throw a wild pack of jackals in front of the character so she has more pressing matters than her interior distress to handle! I don't know. And I don't really care. Just don't have them "push thoughts away." It sounds dumb, it interrupts me as I read, it feels lazy.

Now, tell me why I'm wrong, Internet.


  1. You're not wrong, just spending energy to correct something that's probably always going to be with us. One of my pet peeves is she/he "couldn't help but smile" or "couldn't help but turn away," etc. etc. Who needs this negative approach? Why not just "smiled," or "turned away?