Derek Attig over at BookRiot wrote a great post this past week in which he deciphered some common book reviewer speak. Not only did it make me laugh, but it also got me to thinking about whether I use (overuse) any words or clichés in my own reviews. I try not to. In fact, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I regularly mock book reviewer speak when I tweet my way through the most recent batch of reviews from Publishers' Weekly.
The problem with using all these now stock terms is that all the meaning is eventually drained out of them. I'm sure the words and phrases Attig cites at one point were fresh and evocative, but now I think most people would be hard pressed to define "tour de force."
I can't recall having used anything on Attig's list except for meditation and moral dilemma. But I know that I have my own writing tics. I often talk about plots in terms of "threads" and speak of an author "weaving" them together, but that's because that's how I think of plots and subplots. I try to cycle through my superlatives. If you went back and looked closely at my posts, you could probably find my favorite superlative (terrific, fabulous, marvelous) of the month. And then there's my habit of starting sentences, like this one, with conjunctions. (The Chicago Manual of Style supports this habit, by the way, so nascent English majors can just chill out about it.) To be honest, once you reach a certain point in your writing, mistakes become style anyway.
It's hard to see the problems in one's own writing. And, although Blogger tells me that people are at least visiting my site, I don't get very many comments except for people chiming in to say they also liked whatever book I just reviewed or to post incomprehensible spam. This isn't an invitation to edit me a new one, by the way. I'm just curious about whether I've become formulaic, since it's one of the things I detest in fiction. I might be just a book reader and reviewer and not a novelist myself, but I'm trying to cut back on my hypocrisies.
Even if I can't completely eradicate my tics and clichés, I do promise never to describe a book as a tour de force.