Fling, Flang, Flung

Party hatAfter finishing a major round of revisions this past week, I wanted to celebrate by posting something profound, or inspirational, or at the very least something helpful to other writers. What I landed on is probably not any of those things, but it’s a topic that’s been stuck in my brain for days.

A line from Rebecca’s hilarious post on Thursday sums it up well:

“Not everyone knows what it is like to work for hours, agonizing over the subtleties of word choice. (Is it a secret meeting? A clandestine meeting? Does a stealthy meeting make sense?)”

Word choice. As writers, it’s our job to play with words, to throw them against the wall and see what sticks. It’s fun. Too much fun, maybe, because in addition to spending waaaay too much time wrestling with a single word or phrase, I get carried away with my own little writer quirks that I don’t even recognize until a) someone points them out or, b) they suddenly become glaringly obvious after I failed to notice them on fifty-three previous read-throughs.

My most common quirk, and luckily the easiest to fix, is adverb overkill (see paragraph above). I love Stephen King’s view on adverbs in the fabulous On Writing: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” He compares them to dandelions, and if you haven’t read this book or even if it’s been a while, I highly recommend…uh, I recommend it a lot. Mui mucho. Page 125 in particular.

OnwritingQuirk #2: Sentences where I like two adjectives equally well and can’t choose between them: “Joe felt worn and worried.” “Floyd’s briefcase looked scuffed and scratched.” Why use just one when you can double up for twice the impact? And yes, most of the offending phrases throw in some alliteration for extra kick. Sweet!

Quirk #3: Recurring verbs—oh, the verbs. I try to choose strong verbs, verbs with impact, until they turn into doorstops strewn across every other page. My favorite verb in this manuscript turned out to be fling. Well, flung, I guess, since it’s written in the past tense. Characters were flinging things all over the place. Objects were flung to the floor with reckless abandon. It was a flingin’, flangin’ train wreck. HOW DO I NOT SEE THIS STUFF UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE?

I could keep going. No shortage of quirks here. But as much as I like to torture myself, deep down I know that all writers have to face similar demons. That’s why we’re so grateful for editors and critique partners and understanding spouses. They help us spot the quirks so we can smooth them over. They allow us to view our work through a more objective lens. And they remind us not to stress so much. Yes, writing is hard work, but it really is supposed to be fun, too. Overwhelmingly, amazingly joyful and jubilant (she typed emphatically, flinging feisty fingers across her fragile keyboard).

Wishing you all a fine Monday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


May Arboretum 027Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.


Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Celebrations, craft~writing, Creativity, Editing and Revising, Writing

20 responses to “Fling, Flang, Flung

  1. And if nothing else, these quirks are fodder for hilarious posts. Really good, Christine. Stephen King would be proud.


  2. Joshua McCune

    Great post, Christine… If you want adverb overkill, read David Eddings. Some of my favorite books growing up, but his ‘l’ and ‘y’ keys were surely worn down.


  3. Wonderful post!
    (But what if I love dandelions?? Can I use that as an excuse? After all, I grew up in Carbondale, Colorado and the dandelion is their official town flower AND they have a dandelion celebration.)
    Seriously, picture book writers are supposed to leave adverbs and adjectives to the illustrator and hope they will get the “dandelions” right 🙂


  4. Christine Hayes

    Penny, a field full of dandelions is a beautiful thing to behold. 🙂 I’d love to learn more about the writing process for picture books. Fodder for a future post, perhaps? Thanks so much for your comment!


  5. Oh, man, I used to be an adverb junkie, too. And my characters love to “slip” places–into bed, out of cars, etc. Great post, Christine–so true!


  6. Sheila A. Donovan

    I definitely am guilty of overusing adverbs, a habit that I’ll have to rein in.


  7. I love your line: “It was a flingin’, flaingin’ train-wreck!” I have many writing quirks of my own, but since I’m in that race-through-a-first-draft phase I’m not dwelling on them at the moment or it will absolutely kill my momentum. And I’m sure it will be eye-opening once I start working with my editor and have never-before-realized writing quirks pointed out to me!

    Great post, Christine!


    • Christine Hayes

      Thanks, Jenn! I love first drafts because you can just write and not fret about all the nit-picky details, like grammar and stuff. 🙂


  8. LOL, great post, Christine! I’m definitely guilty of adverb and and adjective abuse, too! Words, glorious words… the more the better, right? 😉


  9. Great tips, great post! I keep singing the title like that part in the Grinch song where it goes, “Stink! Stank! Stunk!”


    • Christine Hayes

      Ooh, cool! According to the Urban Dictionary, flang refers to a roll of flab or spare tire. Probably should’ve looked that up sooner.


  10. Loved this post, just as I love On Writing! And my personal bane? ‘Just’ because apparently there are just too many places where just is just perfect. 😛


  11. I’m guilty of so many of the same things! Laughed so hard at “flingin’, flangin’ train wreck” – great post. Congratulations on finishing revisions.


    • Christine Hayes

      Thanks, Megan. You too! Didn’t I read that you’ve moved on to line edits? We’re getting there, one baby step at a time!


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