Punishing the Peccadillo

I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard the word “peccadillo,” but I do remember laughing like a simpleton because it always reminded me of armadillos. So when Mom said, “She certainly has an strange collection of peccadilloes,” I envisioned some lady with a box of armadillos, all wearing brightly colored hats and carrying fancy handbags. Considering where I grew up, this would have caused a few traffic accidents.

I find peccadillo to be a fun little word. It’s polite and only refers to a slight offense in the quaintest of terms, quite unlike its more barbarian brethren “breach” “crime” “malfeasance” “wrongdoing” “delinquency.” Now those are some badass words that mean business.

When it comes to writing, I try to avoid using the badass words because they’re so mean. They carry guns and knives, and threaten black-hearted, soulless editors right out of their batcaves. But there are many times when I read a manuscript and notice tendencies. A peccadillo. These tendencies aren’t enough to get Mr. Malfeasance or Ms. Crime on their high horses. But they are, nonetheless, irritating because they are permeated throughout the manuscript.

If I see an author has a peccadillo with not using good transitioning between paragraphs and/or scenes, then I know my redline comments are going to turn the manuscript bloody red. It’s a constant. Same thing if an author is fond of comma splices – Ex: The beagle is drunk again, get out the aspirin.

That peccadillo is going to drive me crazy because I either have to ferret out every single one and choose which comma splices work and which don’t, or I have to tell the author to rewrite the offending comma splices. Problem is, a few sprinkled here and there can add flavor to the pace.

I have worked with authors who adore semi-colons. They sprinkle five to ten of them per page. It screws with the pacing and becomes like that dull headache I get when I’ve had one too many of the beagle’s margaritas. I have to either tell the author to rewrite nearly all of the semi-colons, or I do it myself using the Track Changes feature.

My own peccadillo is my fondness for using “that.” Go figure. But there it is. That here, that there…drives me nuts to the point where I slap myself silly. Other adore em dashes or ellipses. We all have them, but the trick is to BE AWARE OF THEM. If you see that you have an overabundance of ellipses, punish your peccadillo by lighting a fire to your hair recognizing it and writing without it. It’s like trying not to itch a mosquito bite. You know you want to scratch that little bastard ’til it bleeds, but then it hurts, gets all gooey, and itches even worse.

See, peccadilloes won’t ruin your literary career, but they will make your editor want to mainline cheap gin because that little peccadillo populates itself throughout your entire manuscript. It’s an editing PITA.

So what are your peccadilloes? Be honest and look for them because you have one. Seek it out, give it a good spanking, and scrub it from your manuscript. Who knows? You just may save an editor from another long day of inebriation.

Or not…

8 Responses to Punishing the Peccadillo

  1. Julie Rowe says:

    I call peccadillos garbage words and I have a few I seem to repeat no matter how hard I try not to:
    Really, very, totally, so, that and just.

    It’s all great until I read the manuscript out loud. That’s when all those garbage words jump off the page and make me want to bang my head. 🙂

  2. johanniter says:

    Oh, boy – totally gotta be em-dashes – I catch myself just slapping them in there left and right – or worse, I don’t catch myself… 🙂

  3. Bill Webb says:

    dashes -.we don’t need no stinking dashes….or dots. Those are mine But you know, I didn’t see the comma splice the Beagle drunk sentence. Ohh, I do that all the time. Now I gotta go back to my MS and pec the dillos out.

  4. Very funny, you wisenheimers.

  5. Aloha Lynn,

    I just have a problem – well it’s just a little problem – however it’s just as well – no seriously – that I come to terms – forever – that i just use too many “-” and “just.”

    Just look at the above sentence – I know it’s terrible – and you’ll see what I mean.

  6. Kim Kircher says:

    Yep. Em dashes. I love those little bastards.

  7. tbrosz says:

    I have so many peccadillos that if they all waddled out onto the Interstate at the same time any truck hitting the resulting mass would fold up like an accordion.

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