Author Topic: The most common mistakes of craft, or "Come on, folks, this is your profession!"  (Read 5464 times)

WHDean

On comma splices, the one thing I can't wrap my head around is this: even among people who understand what they are (a disappointingly small percentage), there seems to be a feeling that they're okay used in dialogue. I've heard this is because trade editors frown on semicolons inside of quotes, not because someone's mangling punctuation to give a feeling of dialect.

This has never made sense to me. A semicolon is a useful little thing, good for more than just emoticons. ;)

Sure, we shouldn't overuse them, but simply turning a blind eye to the exact same sentence construction punctuated incorrectly with a comma splice seems like a nonsensical fix. Sentences can be broken, em dashes can be used, FANBOYS conjunctions added--there are a number of potential fixes that don't involve incorrect punctuation.

Everyone makes mistakes, but committing them deliberately doesn't seem like a good idea to me.


I wonder whether people are going for that aloof, ironic character you see everywhere. It sometimes sound more like the character is discombobulated or stoned:


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I've been thinking a lot lately, a lot of stuff is swirling around my head, need to quit the meth maybe, did a seagull just sh*t on my head?


 
 

sassybeewriter

I don't have to look all that far for errors of craft. (the calls usually come from inside the house on that one)  :afro:

gerund

Been using and abusing those. I had to google it. Had no idea what the heck that was.

I also... abuse gerunds. And I am ashamed.
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David VanDyke

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I never mind if someone's doing outside the box something for effect. But when they do it all the time, with no clue that it's outside the box, then it's not originality or art--it's incompetence.

You have to know the rules to be able to break the rules well.
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Ace Fletcher

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Another common error is using then instead of than.
I changed my password to 'incorrect'. That way when I forget, it always reminds me, "your password is incorrect".
 
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Becca Mills

Another common error is using then instead of than.

Yeah, I see that one pop up a few times a year.

The more unusual homophones can be a problem too. Grizzly/grisly, reins/reigns, metal/mettle, bait/bate, block/bloc, pedal/peddle ... English has so many of the danged things.
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Becca Mills

Oh, here's a big pet peeve: the displacement of "me."

"Myself" crops up in all kinds of spots where "me" is actually what's needed: He handed the gun to myself; Contact Sally or myself if you have questions. It's as though "me" doesn't sound important/formal enough, and "myself" sweeps in, in all its fancy, two-syllable glory.

In other spots, "me" gets displaced by "I": She gave the cat to Jane and I; The teacher waved at John and I. Some years ago I knew someone so absolutely committed to using "and I" instead of "and me/my" that she'd give "I" the trappings of a possessive: Bob and I's car; in Bob and I's opinion.

Actually, I've heard "myself" displacing "I" too: Frank and myself were driving south.

It's like "myself" is the most desirable pronoun, "I" is second best, and "me" is starting to sound wrong. But actually, "myself" is rarely needed. It's just for reflexiveness or emphasis: I scratched myself; I paid for this car myself.

I generally think we should accept language change, but I admit this particular group of shifts bugs me. It seems so stuffy.
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Lysmata Debelius

Becca, is that a form of hyper correction? People trying to avoid the "x and me" vs "x and I" thing?
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Morgan Worth

Good observations, WHDean. Especially about 3, though that can apply to all of them.

The thing is, if you pay an editor to edit, they will edit, just like if you pay an investigator to investigate, they will find something wrong with whomever they're investigating. That becomes their purpose in life. You can see this by the fact (there have been tests) where an MS is given to an editor, then the changed MS is later given back the the exact same editor--and they will recommend changing things back the way they were.

Really good editors know when to leave well enough alone--and they're smart to do so. It makes for a lot less work for everyone.


The incentives are hard to get around, no doubt. One suggestion--which is only liable to work in specific cases--is to say something like the following to the editor:


Look, I know you make your beans by making changes, and you don't want to come off as useless by not changing anything. So here's what you can do: Use the comment function. Leave me a suggestion when you think you have one and your rationale for it. I'd prefer that to a bunch of unnecessary synonymous substitutions.


I expect this might help in cases where you think you need to take the pressure off. And what you get might be more useful.


Another thing: I've always thought working out a "style statement" (or whatever you want to call it) about what you're trying to do, along with some writers you're emulating, is a good idea. Having a benchmark like that orients the editor toward a goal, instead of having him or her focused on "fixing mistakes." The side benefit of this is that you weed out the people whose aim was to mold you in their style.   
Through the editing process, you should have the option to accept of reject the changes. This is true in indie or traditional publishing. The edits are done in MS Word, so you should be able to see the changes and read the notes while reviewing the manuscript. Punctuation are typically those you accept most, assuming you have a quality editor.
Where it gets subjective is mostly during developmental and copy editing. But it's also where a writer's ego can get in the way. Be careful not to dismiss a suggestion or criticism out of hand. If you find yourself disagreeing, move on and give it time. Think on it a while. It's crucial to remember that you are close to your story. You might not have the best perspective to make certain judgments.

This. The standard is to use the "Track Changes" feature, giving the author the opportunity to accept or reject changes.
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Becca Mills

Becca, is that a form of hyper correction? People trying to avoid the "x and me" vs "x and I" thing?

Yeah, I think it is. Seems like it to me, anyway.
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Morgan Worth

Another common error is using then instead of than.

This one makes me die a little inside.

My peeve is from my substitute-teaching days. Teachers would leave notes instructing me to "take role."
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elleoco

"Myself" crops up in all kinds of spots where "me" is actually what's needed:
* * *
In other spots, "me" gets displaced by "I":

Oh, yeah, there does seem to be some sort of modern anti-me trend, and it grates.

I think something similar is the constant use of "upon" when a plain "on" would do. "It grates upon me," vs. "It grates on me."

Becca Mills

Oh, yeah, there does seem to be some sort of modern anti-me trend, and it grates.

I think something similar is the constant use of "upon" when a plain "on" would do. "It grates upon me," vs. "It grates on me."

Heh. I have a feeling I'll start noticing this everywhere, now that you've pointed it out!
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Felix R. Savage

The one thing I wish every indie would learn is that copyediting and developmental editing are NOT the same thing, and both are necessary ... I guess unless you've been doing this for years, and don't try new stuff. I'm on book #50 and I still rely on a dev editor. Far too many people think editing = copyediting. Result is an awful lot of nicely shined turds. Perfect grammar won't fix a story that needs work on the structural level.
 
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Ginny

I have dyslexia too, which is not helpful. Spellcheck doesn't know what the hell I'm trying to type 80% of the time. *sigh*

I would listen to audio tapes of children's books when I was a kid, all the basic fairy tales. I do believe that enhanced my imagination. When I write now, I see the story like a movie in my head.

Words that sound the same, but are spelled differently kill me.  :HB
 
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The one thing I wish every indie would learn is that copyediting and developmental editing are NOT the same thing, and both are necessary ... I guess unless you've been doing this for years, and don't try new stuff. I'm on book #50 and I still rely on a dev editor. Far too many people think editing = copyediting. Result is an awful lot of nicely shined turds. Perfect grammar won't fix a story that needs work on the structural level.

I'd say that's true 90% of the time.

However, I've also the the flip side occasionally: the deveditor desperately wanting to shoehorn a story into the Hero's Journey, or the Thee Act Play, or some other standard story structure, when it's not needed, and doing so takes away from the interesting quirkiness or would make the story bland and over-familiar.
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JRTomlin

Abusing gerunds causes hair to grow on your palms. Just sayin'.  :writethink:
 

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Rose Andrews

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The one thing I wish every indie would learn is that copyediting and developmental editing are NOT the same thing, and both are necessary ... I guess unless you've been doing this for years, and don't try new stuff. I'm on book #50 and I still rely on a dev editor. Far too many people think editing = copyediting. Result is an awful lot of nicely shined turds. Perfect grammar won't fix a story that needs work on the structural level.
This is why it's important to study story structure but not everyone needs a developmental editor for every book, or maybe for none of our books. It really depends on the author and where they are in their craft. While I do agree that knowing the difference between editors is a good idea, putting it out there that at book 50 you are still using a developmental editor isn't necessarily a healthy way of getting the point across imho. Years ago, I hired a developmental editor for one of my books and although she helped me immensely, it was a one time deal for me. At some point I had to figure out how to write a book by learning story structure. We're all different.
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Lysmata Debelius

How about this one?
Relying too much on plot twists and surprise. It depends on the genre, of course, but often it's more fun to read a story where you are allowed to feel clever because you picked up the clues to the things the characters haven't figured out yet. Then when the Big Reveal comes, you can say "I knew it!"

Plot twists, when badly done, can leave you feeling that you've been manipulated or tricked, and can leave a bad taste. When done well, they can be awesome but so few writers get it right. "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters is a fantastic example of a twisty plot done right.
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RCoots

How about this one?
Relying too much on plot twists and surprise. It depends on the genre, of course, but often it's more fun to read a story where you are allowed to feel clever because you picked up the clues to the things the characters haven't figured out yet. Then when the Big Reveal comes, you can say "I knew it!"

Plot twists, when badly done, can leave you feeling that you've been manipulated or tricked, and can leave a bad taste. When done well, they can be awesome but so few writers get it right. "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters is a fantastic example of a twisty plot done right.

Yes to the feeling of bad plot twists making you feel tricked. No (for me) to dribbling clues enough to bring on the 'i knew it'. Personal preference here, but if I'm in ten percent (or however many) and I can already tell what the ending will be, I tend to finish out of obligation more than anything else. And if it does indeed turn out the way I expected, I sigh and stick i in the 'not really worth it' pile.

Entertain me please, well enough that I forget to pull apart clues and plot structure and just go with the flow.
 

PJ Post

Back on the editor thing; in their need to fix it, I think it's important they don't edit your voice out of the book. Our voice, or character voice, is one of the few things we have going for us.

I write in first present, so I use comma splices all the time, because that's how people think, in bits and streams and fragments. Writers often forget that when they're writing first present, the prose is unvarnished and immediate character development. Conforming the whole lot to CMoS would...well...pretty much suck. This is why getting the right editor is so important, otherwise they end up doing more harm than good.

Also also, punctuation was originally intended as a shorthand, like music notation, to let the orator know how to read the text aloud. This is how I use it. If I want the reader to pause and reflect, they're getting a comma, regardless of grammar rules suggestions. Not to be snarky, but my books are not junior high English papers. Fortunately, I don't have to make a marketing department happy either.  Grin

I think one of the major stumbling blocks for writers is trying to conform to this notion of what a story is and how it should be written. As a rule, I think writing advice is pretty much horsesh*t. There's an exception to everything, really good ones too. This desire to follow the rules shows up most frequently as stilted prose, lacking rhythm and personality. There's nothing wrong with it, grammatically speaking, it's just boring to read. It's okay to take risks. I think that's how we find our voice. Besides, we can always fix it in the edit/rewrite...or not?

For example, one of my characters always mixes up number agreement when using contractions. 'There are' is always reduced to 'there's'. It's grammatically wrong, but people say it all of the time, so it feels authentic.  One of the best ways to differentiate characters is to have them break the rules in their own special way, especially if there's a reason for it. (There should definitely be a reason for it.) Loosen the tie and let your characters breathe, er...dance.   :dance:
 
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David VanDyke

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Abusing gerunds causes hair to grow on your palms. Just sayin'.  :writethink:

I tried so hard to make up a clever wordplay with this, but failed utterly.
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Jeff Tanyard

Abusing gerunds causes hair to grow on your palms. Just sayin'.  :writethink:

I tried so hard to make up a clever wordplay with this, but failed utterly.


Wordplaying is almost as hard as gerunding.   :cool:
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David VanDyke

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The pet peeve that's bugging me lately are all the weakening qualifiers, especially "kind of" when used to mean "approximately."

"That monster was kind of the biggest I've ever seen." Contradict much?
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Rob Martin

My biggest pet peeve lately is when someone tries to write dialogue with an accent. I just finished a book where the Hero was a Yank (from the American Northeast) in the South. Everyone was written with a Southern drawl. I didn't mind that too much. Some authors have done it quite well, however this one didn't. Consistency is key. If you're going to use an accent in the dialogue, use it consistently. If you can't, use grammatically correct spelling and tag is an accent. It's the difference between:

"Y'all goin' out 'night?" He asked.

vs.

"You going out tonight?" He asked with a Southern drawl so thick it could attract flies.
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David VanDyke

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Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

Every "if" is followed by "was." As in, "If I was a ballon," or "If she was here." I want to read the books, but it's like trying to eat apples and finding worms.

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Jeff Tanyard

"Y'all goin' out 'night?" He asked.


I've never heard anyone drop the first syllable of "tonight" altogether.   :Hqn66ku:  I agree that writing dialect like that is inadvisable, but it's especially inadvisable if it comes across to native speakers as erroneous.


Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

Every "if" is followed by "was." As in, "If I was a ballon," or "If she was here." I want to read the books, but it's like trying to eat apples and finding worms.


That's actually the norm in this region.  If you used "were" in those instances around here, it would seem odd.   :shrug

I think the Bandit said it best at 2:12 of this video:


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elleoco

Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

The judge of a writing contest once told me subjunctive was passé and I should stop using it. That was years ago, but being pigheaded, I ignored her advice. I'm now having trouble with the modern simplified possessives but am trying to convince myself to go along there. The whole idea of dumbing down instead of educating up offends me.

Rose Andrews

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Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

Every "if" is followed by "was." As in, "If I was a ballon," or "If she was here." I want to read the books, but it's like trying to eat apples and finding worms.
Totally guilty here. I do "It was as if..." a lot.  :icon_redface:
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Vijaya

Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

 The whole idea of dumbing down instead of educating up offends me.

I just keep singing If I were a Rich Man.

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Becca Mills

Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

Every "if" is followed by "was." As in, "If I was a ballon," or "If she was here." I want to read the books, but it's like trying to eat apples and finding worms.
Totally guilty here. I do "It was as if..." a lot.  :icon_redface:

I think "It was as if ..." is correct. I certainly could be wrong, but it sounds right to my ear.
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Jeff Tanyard

Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

 The whole idea of dumbing down instead of educating up offends me.

I just keep singing If I were a Rich Man.


 :icon_lol2: grint
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David VanDyke

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Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

Every "if" is followed by "was." As in, "If I was a ballon," or "If she was here." I want to read the books, but it's like trying to eat apples and finding worms.
Totally guilty here. I do "It was as if..." a lot.  :icon_redface:

I think "It was as if ..." is correct. I certainly could be wrong, but it sounds right to my ear.

You happen to be correct in that case, but there are other subjunctive constructions where "were" is correct.

I was noting that, in this book series (18 books!) every single subjunctive used "was," and never "were," even when "were" was correct and "was" was incorrect.

By analogy, it's as if the author never conjugated a verb, but said, "they was" as well as "she was," all the time and every time.
Never listen to people with no skin in the game.

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Becca Mills

Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

Every "if" is followed by "was." As in, "If I was a ballon," or "If she was here." I want to read the books, but it's like trying to eat apples and finding worms.
Totally guilty here. I do "It was as if..." a lot.  :icon_redface:

I think "It was as if ..." is correct. I certainly could be wrong, but it sounds right to my ear.

You happen to be correct in that case, but there are other subjunctive constructions where "were" is correct.

I was noting that, in this book series (18 books!) every single subjunctive used "was," and never "were," even when "were" was correct and "was" was incorrect.

By analogy, it's as if the author never conjugated a verb, but said, "they was" as well as "she was," all the time and every time.

No, you're definitely right that the subjunctive takes "were." That's my understanding anyway. I would be annoyed if it were (ahem) missing, with exceptions for dialogue. Trying to figure out why Rose's example doesn't ... maybe it's not actually subjunctive, despite the presence of "if." Maybe it's actually something more like a simile.
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JRTomlin

Current book series apparently has simply done away with "were" for subjunctives.

Every "if" is followed by "was." As in, "If I was a ballon," or "If she was here." I want to read the books, but it's like trying to eat apples and finding worms.
That brings out my inner pedant soooo much.  :HB
 

munboy

Naming a body part that is already implied by the action or naming of a part of the body part.

"She shrugged her shoulders."
Ok, but what else would she shrug? (Not to be confused with "She shrugged A shoulder" which is a subtly different action and is acceptable (in my mind, anyways))

"He had a tattoo on the palm of his hand."
Really? I thought it was on palm of his knee.

I'm doing some deep edits/rewrites on a mess of a manuscript for a publisher and find myself slashing these things quite a bit. It makes me hope my editor and I didn't miss any of these in my books.  :icon_think:
 

Tom Wood

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"He crouched down."

What other direction could he crouch?
 
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JRTomlin

He sat down as well. Have you ever sat up?
 

VanessaC

He sat down as well. Have you ever sat up?

Erm, sometimes. I would say "sat up in bed", for example, or my characters quite often end up knocked down so they sit up from there. But "sat down on a chair" is mostly redundant, I agree.
     

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Gaylord Fancypants

He sat down as well. Have you ever sat up?

Erm, sometimes. I would say "sat up in bed", for example, or my characters quite often end up knocked down so they sit up from there. But "sat down on a chair" is mostly redundant, I agree.

Both "sit down" and "sit up" are phrasal verbs, which shouldn't be avoided ("We need to sit down with the marketing department" and "His claims made me sit up and listen closely"). Both can also be redundant when used literally ("I sat down on the chair" and "I was sitting up in the attic").
 
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David VanDyke

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Lately I'm running into too much pointless detail--not enriching, but just description because the author can't seem to let go.

Example:

She went out the door, down the steps and walked down the sidewalk to her car. Opening the door, she sat down in the seat, buckled the belt and put the key in the ignition and started the engine...

*facepalm*

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JRTomlin

He sat down as well. Have you ever sat up?

Erm, sometimes. I would say "sat up in bed", for example, or my characters quite often end up knocked down so they sit up from there. But "sat down on a chair" is mostly redundant, I agree.

Both "sit down" and "sit up" are phrasal verbs, which shouldn't be avoided ("We need to sit down with the marketing department" and "His claims made me sit up and listen closely"). Both can also be redundant when used literally ("I sat down on the chair" and "I was sitting up in the attic").
I was obviously referring to the literal use. That doesn't mean there might not be some point when you might want to use the phrase.

I absolutely agree about pointless detail, David.
 

sassybeewriter

Abusing gerunds causes hair to grow on your palms. Just sayin'.  :writethink:

Lol, it's almost a rhythm thing. Once you start using them they sort of become hard NOT to use.

Definitely getting hairy palms over here.

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sassybeewriter

Lately I'm running into too much pointless detail--not enriching, but just description because the author can't seem to let go.

Example:

She went out the door, down the steps and walked down the sidewalk to her car. Opening the door, she sat down in the seat, buckled the belt and put the key in the ignition and started the engine...

*facepalm*

If you ever wrote stage or screenplays this is an easy trap to fall into! I spend a lot of time on second drafts cutting mundane physical activity (not as descriptive as your example but… Well it's not good). Just little things out that make me scratch my head and go "WHY?"
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VanessaC

Lately I'm running into too much pointless detail--not enriching, but just description because the author can't seem to let go.

Example:

She went out the door, down the steps and walked down the sidewalk to her car. Opening the door, she sat down in the seat, buckled the belt and put the key in the ignition and started the engine...

*facepalm*

Agree!

Or something I ran into was a first person story where the description included things like "I put my long, silky, brown hair up into a ponytail". I get that the writer is trying to convey the character's physical description, and it's tough without resorting to cliche (mirrors, etc), but I still remember that line of description several years later.

(And I say this knowing I have resorted to cliche or tricks from time to time to get information across.  :icon_redface:)
     

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David VanDyke

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Cliches are cliches because they work. The mirror cliche works in prose and on screen. I personally never saw any problem with it, if, like everything, it's used sparingly--say, once per book.

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Lately, I've been seeing "everyday" misused a lot. Proofreading usually catches this, so I don't see it often in books, but I often do on shop signs and in informal communications like emails and posts.

"Everyday" is an adjective. This is everyday weather, an everyday occurrence.

It's not an adverb or conjunction like "everywhere."

Wrong: Low prices everyday! I go there everyday.

Right: Low prices every day! I go there every day.
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Tom Wood

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"The glass windows I pass reflect a distorted vision of myself—face elongated, dark jeans stretched too long, black gloves, beat-up boots, faded red scarf wrapped around my black hoodie. My rainbow-colored hair spills out from underneath my hood."

I won't name the author, but they do quite well.
 

PJ Post

Naming a body part that is already implied by the action or naming of a part of the body part.

"She shrugged her shoulders."
Ok, but what else would she shrug? (Not to be confused with "She shrugged A shoulder" which is a subtly different action and is acceptable (in my mind, anyways))

"He had a tattoo on the palm of his hand."
Really? I thought it was on palm of his knee.

I agree. I try to catch them, but they sneak through just the same, the little bastards. For me, it just comes out as part of the flow. But - on the other hand - sometimes, you need those redundant words, otherwise it messes with the rhythm of the prose. 'Bob sat' is one of those. Depending on the situation, it can be too stark or stilted, so, 'sat down' makes sense because it's how people talk. People say, 'please, sit down' all the time. We're programmed into thinking like that. So deleting these finishing words can leave the reader hanging and unsettled. These words also direct reader attention and increase reader engagement. So, it's a trickier rule to master than it may appear to be on the surface.

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Reflection descriptions, at this point in cliche-ville, are just lazy writing. It's sooooooo easy to do better, especially in first person. Same with opening with weather or waking up. This is where re-writes can really improve things.
 

David VanDyke

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It's funny, I think I have one review complaining that I used the mirror cliche. I seldom use it--maybe in 4-5 books out of my 30+. The thing is, ordinary readers, ones who've never taken a creative writing class or tried to write, don't notice. Readers have to be put on notice that something is "wrong," assuming it's not overused and organically distracting. But once someone has been told in some class or by some authority that something's "wrong," when it's actually only "inadvisable if overused," they suddenly take it as gospel and are happy to re-quote it in a stentorian voice of delegated authority--rather like the memes that go around on FB warning about some nonexistent health risk, that people are happy to forward, thinking they're doing the right thing.

Telling the differences among what's morally and ethically wrong, incorrect, inaccurate or merely inadvisable and unwise, is a skill many never develop.
Never listen to people with no skin in the game.

I'm a lucky guy. I find the harder I work, the luckier I am.
 

PJ Post

We all have our pet peeves; that's one of mine. My least favorite is the 'three weeks ago' opening following some random action sequence. And, not to put too fine a point on it, we all use our own share of cliches - and not always in some clever subversive way. How about the river/life/journey metaphor? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?