- Action sentences which start with "As", or verbs ending in "ing". Replace these with a more active voice. Crossing the street makes the street seem more important than the person doing so. Buster crossed the street is much more lively and unlikely to make your reader remember they're .... well, reading.
- Adverbs: you know, those pesky yet ever so tantalizing descriptive words ending in "ly". Easily, you could pepper your writing with them ... but why say that someone did something angrily instead of showing how they convey that emotion? Which is the clearer picture: Angrily, Jeremiah served Daniel his drink or Jeremiah set Daniel's drink down with a force that rattled the ice in his glass? .... Yeah, I thought so. That being said, I must confess that adverbs are my worst enemy, especially when I'm rushing to meet a word count or get an idea out of my head, and not thinking quite so much about the quality of my work.
- Short, punchy sentences in abundance. This is more likely to crop up in dialogue, because people are more likely to talk that way than you're likely to describe things that way. (I would personally make an exception if this trick is used stylistically for humorous purposes, but do so sparingly.) In dialogue, however, those short sentences can be strung together with commas or ellipses. "I know," Cam said. "She's strung out, it's totally weird... I'm getting worried."
- Italics and exclamation points. This is also, to me, a stylistic choice, and OK if used sparingly. I tend to use italics for internal thought or stressing words in particularly emotional or heated bits of dialogue. Exclamations are reserved for similar occasions. I have also seen a lot of editors and writers giving bad press to the interrobang (?!), but find it useful for rare usage in dialogue which is equal parts shock and confusion. (I think both instances of interrobang use in my first novel belong to poor Buster ...)
- Cliche figures of speech. Don't worry, if a character is likely to spout them to the dismay of their friends and colleagues, let them loose. Cliches as a personality quirk are fine ... but you should attempt to avoid them in descriptions (unless, like short sentences, you are lampshading them for the sake of humor). The bag was heavy as a rock isn't half as effective as the weight of the bag nearly tore his arm from its socket.
(The link within this example could potentially steal hours of your life. You have been warned.)
- Unnecessary profanity. Have you ever known someone who held the opinion that stand-up comedians with clean language are funnier than those who riddle their routines with curses? I may not agree in that respect, but profanity has no place in your descriptions. Also, most people don't cuss blue streaks on a daily basis. I have a few characters with foul mouths, but Aviario isn't populated with clones of Eminem or Samuel L. Jackson.
- Abundance of mundane details. Sorry, Hemingway fans. For the most part, describing every single tiny thing your character does is going to slow your plot down and bore the living daylights out of your reader. Most readers are well-versed in the ins and outs of basic daily routines. If you have someone with a desk job, the reader will assume that in the morning, they'll power on a computer, check email, et cetera. If the character has a crazy morning, but an uneventful afternoon, you can skip to the next noteworthy event in your plot by briefly summarizing the time that has passed. Trust your readers to be intelligent... if you leave the mundane things out, they'll fill in the blanks. Even if you have a character with OCD, you should only need to show their meticulous routine once to get the point across .... but that's edging into Orange, which we'll cover next week.
And so, we come to the end of the Sophistication checklist. Which item on the list do you feel you need to work on the most? Be sure to let me know, and please come back next week for the orange checklist, when we pull Show vs. Tell out from where it's been beaten into the ground.