n. pl. phra·se·ol·o·gies
1. The way in which words and phrases are used in speech or writing; style.
The Second Deadly Sin is placed here because despite how far you’ve come and gone with your writing, this one sneaks past you every time because you never see it coming. It’s internal to your mind and personality and it’s far more costly than the previous sins--it can effect your readership in advancing stages of your career, particularly after you’ve sold.
Much like Repetition, Phraseology is about word choices. Poor word choices. Remember, a writer’s voice is most often discovered in the strength of their sentences and in how often they use them, as well as to what effect. If the writer relies too heavily on their Voice to flavor the book, they can oversaturate it and leave the reader in search of less intrusive writing.
But how can you tell if your phraseology has gone from flavor and become an impediment?
Let’s begin with characters reflected in word choice. How your characters talk is a major part of how the reader connects with them, decides who they are and if they like them. Their dialogue must make them unique, original. True to who they are and where they come from.
This is not license to go ballistic with ill-placed apostrophes to create dialect--any punctuation used in this manner should be applied with a light hand and very infrequently. It’s a prop and not a good one.
What I mean by being true to who characters are and where they come from is this: look at the depth of your character. A strong willed man who has worked his way from the bottom of the heap will not have indecisive dialogue. He won’t be buried in ellipses, nor will he have many questions to his speech. Some, but not many because he knows what he wants and he’s not--by character--likely to be too interested in the opinions of others. That might change with his story arc, but that would be the choice of the writer and it would be done specifically to show the character’s change. That would be a phraseology choice...and in my opinion a good one.
Similar to reflecting characters in dialogue, you will find that showing who they are through introspection is just as important. You are able to reveal more of them from their own minds, how they think and what they think about. Many authors use these opportunities to show duplicity in their character; a man who would risk all for his own gain...or a man who suffers inside as he sacrifices all to protect those he loves.
The most important aspect of both these types of writing and why they apply to this particular sin is that you use them both to create individual identity for your characters. Don’t muddy the waters by giving them all the same words and phrases to think with.
A favorite writer of mine loves the phrase, “Not a chance.” This works great for decisive heroes. But about the thirteenth book, I realized many characters were using it, and not in the cute inside joke kind of way. Heroines weren’t quoting the heroes to get their goats. They were simply using the same words as he would because that is the phraseology the author speaks and thinks with. Be sure to separate who YOU are from who THEY are, and even more importantly, separate who THEY are from EACH OTHER.
By allowing the writer’s mind to lead each character’s dialogue or introspection and internal monologue, you take the reader out of the story. The book becomes simply a book again. It’s not an adventure, it’s not an escape. The reader is plainly aware of where they are and who they are and can very easily step away from the book or the author. And never return. Why spend money on a book you never connect and you never fully believe? Succinctly? You don’t.
Once you have mastered picking yourself out of the story--but leaving enough of yourself for it to remain alive--you will want to concentrate on whether or not you can strengthen your sentences with stronger verbs. This will help remove you from the ranks of “passive voice” abuser. Make your sentences pop and lock by avoiding adverbs--again, no need to become a Nazi, genocide on any word or structure only weakens your writing; learn to master them and use them properly--and looking for verb choices that concisely express the tension, tone and action you’re trying to convey.
Jenny ran across the field, desperate to reach the other end.
Better: Jenny raced to the other end of the field.
Always look for the strongest word combinations to convey emotion, physicality, sensory and setting. Even the most boring soul will express response. It’s not what they’re doing or how it’s done that dictates word choice--it’s how you want the character--and thus your reader--to feel about them. Something that should be rule of thumb for all parts of writing.
Next Week: The Deadliest Sin: Implausibility