So there I was, jogging my little heart out on the gym elliptical machine, reading a book I was thoroughly enjoying. The voice was wonderful, the story fun and entertaining. I was enjoying reading something outside my normal pleasure reading repertoire. The narrative was filled with witty, self deprecating womanly angst that we’ve all been through at one time or another. Har har, ohhh, so been there, babe. I was totally engrossed until I came across this one line.
“I threw up a little bit in my mouth.”
I stopped ellipticating and re-read the line. Eeeeeek!!! Did I read that right? Gah. Did she really use a line that is on virtually every blog or writer’s board? Furthermore, how in the name of St. Syntax did this tiny, weency sentence pass the author’s editor? I would have zapped that little blighter with a flame thrower.
What plays well and elicits a snork from readers on internet boards and blogs does not mean it’s going to have the same effect in a book. I wanted to scream “NARC!” To me, it’s as bad as trying pass off “It was a dark and stormy night” as your lead-off sentence and not expect howls of “ya gotta be kidding” to ricochet off your quill.
Writing a recognizable sentence and attempting to use it as your own is akin to a perspiration stain on a wedding dress. You can look past the stain and look at the overall wedding gown, but your eyes can’t unsee the stain. And you’ll begin to wonder about the bride’s ability to take care of the situation.
Ok, maybe I’m overreacting, but what this innocent little sentence did is take me out of her story – which was bad because it was a pivotal part of the story. Instead, I stared at the offending sentence and wondered what the author was thinking. Was she that unable to figure out how to express utter shock? Or did she really think this wouldn’t be seen as a literary faux pas?
We writers are word whores. We can’t help it. We see clever things and want to adopt them for our own writing. But there is real danger in adopting something that virtually everyone knows isn’t your own. For one thing, editors can fall off gym equipment.
Change up an internet cliche so that it becomes yours. After all, there are a gajillion ways to express shock to the point of feeling sick, so write that instead. You’re supposed to be clever and unique, so go write your own brilliant stuff. Besides, and be honest here, how many of us have EVER thrown up a little in our mouths? Isn’t that an all or none proposition?
And that’s why it works so well on a board – it conveys shock and dismay as only internet-speak can do. But keep in on the boards and out of your book.