Likewise, if your prose sounds vaguely like something a Shakespeare-, Dickens-, or Joyce-themed garage band would sing, stop it. Just stop it. Did you just write “They die knowing that what they do is what must be done”? Please smack yourself upside the head for me.
Here is a helpful starter list of things you should forget you know how to type:
- “slings and arrows”
- “mortal coil”
- [any other reference to Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy]
- “really” “actually” “truly” - It's ok. I believe you already. You don't have to convince me.
- “extremely” “absolutely” “very”- Meaningless intensifiers don’t add anything. Use more vivid adjectives if you’re feeling like your prose is lackluster. Invest in a thesaurus.
- “imminent demise”
- “be it” instead of “whether it’s” - (As in “Be it sleek or fuzzy, no one likes a dirty bathmat.") Nobody talks like this. You sound like an idiot.
- “orbs” instead of “eyes” - This is not fanfiction, people. (Likewise “locks” or “tresses” instead of “hair.”)
- “beyond a shadow of a doubt”
- “lick [his] wounds” - Unless he’s a werewolf or something who is literally licking his wounds, this is just trite.
- “brooks no refusal” - In general, if you never use the verb outside of that phrase, you should probably avoid using that phrase.
- “home turf”
- “it’s clear that” “obviously” “evidently” - If it’s obvious, I’m sure you’ll illustrate that shortly. Don’t tell me what I can discern for myself.
- “bolt upright” - See this post from Language Log.
I’m not saying that all cliches or stock phrases are inherently bad. They can help add flavor to dialogue, especially, and can serve as a shortcut to mood-setting. To set yourself apart from the seventeen gazillion other writers out there, however, it’s better to craft your own mood using your own words.
As a side note, much of the material for this post came from one of my earliest editing projects, which was also the most racist, poorly-written piece of crap I’ve ever read. Next week I’ll post some tips (inspired by the manuscript!) on how not to be an ethnocentric butthead in your game writing.