Today I shall share with you, dearest dukes and duchesses, what I believe are some over-used phrases that I see in writing. And by over-used, I mean I saw them often enough to actually make a list and blog about why they irritate me.
Describing something as razor sharp. The most common I see is “Razor sharp teeth,” “razor sharp claws,” or a sword/knife that’s been hones to a razor’s edge. This is lazy description to me. Whenever I see this, I feel the writer doesn’t really know what they’re actually suggesting. Fangs are technically not sharp, they’re really pointy. And a shark’s tooth is sharp as hell, but also serrated to tear through things. Have you looked at one recently?
Same with claws and talons. Claws are tough, but not sharp – they’re pointy, there’s a difference – and often claws serve a multi-function – climbing, digging, etc. A razor’s edge by definition is very thin, and by extension, frail. Something as useful as a claw or as brittle as a tooth (no big cat uses its long fangs to attack, only to kill subdued prey) would actually be rendered fragile were it to have an edge. The same thing applies to weaponry. Ever hold a razor? Ever try swinging it, let alone hitting something? Without the aid of fantastical elements, which is fine, claws-teeth-metal blades would dent, bend, break if they actually had an edge as thin as a razor.
Be more imaginative.
The smell of fear / the smell of death. Look I’m all about describing the senses, not least of which is smell, but I hate this. When a writer uses this, it implies two things: 1) the readers know what death/fear smells like so it does not need further description and 2) the writer can’t think of anything better to write. Cheap cop-out in my opinion. What does death and fear smell like? At least try to describe what these abstract concepts are like when they reach our noses, or at least explain what it is that’s evoking the sense. Is akin to rot? Ash? Cigarette smoke
In any way, shape or form. Similar to above. Overused and usually not used properly. Thankfully it’s a modern phrase (and if you like to read, chances are you recognize how modern speech sorta spits on the rules of the language), and does not usually appear in fantasy writing.
Nothing more, and nothing less. I don’t really have a critique about this except that I think it’s overused. Gets the point across, but usually when people say (or write) this, it’s an exaggeration. Whenever it’s spoken by a character/live person, it translates in my head as “I’m so sure of myself that I can’t even imagine the possibility of something different.”
[More/worse/ect.] than you possibly imagine. I find this phrase insulting. Writing or saying this to someone suggests they have a weak imagination, and where I come from them’s fightin’ words. It’s even worse when a 1st Person Narrative actually directs it toward the reader. Another cheap cop-out, which brings us to the next and final phrase of the day…
It defies description. Or worse: it can’t be described. Well, isn’t that your job? You’re a writer. Describe it. Otherwise, you as the storyteller or the character are/is being lazy. Maybe that’s part of the theme – a character (narrator or otherwise) who for plot reasons actually is incapable of describing something – being terrified, for instance – but don’t be all like “I’d love to tell you but words fail me.” Words didn’t fail you. You failed the words.
How about you, dearest readers? Are there phrases that you see again and again that irritate you? Or do you disagree with what I have opined here?
/end rant. Subsequent posts will be more positive, I promise.