Watch out for writing ruts

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

Some of you may remember that I wrote on this topic long ago, but I have recently come across quite a few ruts in manuscripts I’ve been reading and I thought it might be appropriate timing to refresh this topic.

When I originally wrote this post, I had been reading a non-work-related novel where the author constantly mentioned children. I was slowly being driven crazy by the continuous mention of CHILDREN! I love kids, even more now than I did then, but this author allowed the main character to talk about her children nonstop. The plot was significantly hindered by the amount of time I had to spend reading about kids. This was not a parenting book! The author had unintentionally created a rut.

Another recent manuscript had all of the characters growling at each other. They’d get mad and growl. Visions of bears in a den came to mind when I’d read about them growling over and over. It was a historical romance, so the growling didn’t help to set the romantic tone. The growling became a rut.

Using a word over and over again is a very common rut. Another author I’ve enjoy refers to young people as “youths” in nearly every book she’s written.  I love her books, but I laugh when I see the word “youths.” Another author refers to character complexions as “sugar and spice.” I’m not even sure what that means in reference to a complexion.

As I was discussing the first book with my colleagues here at Books & Such, Michelle brought up another example of a rut. She’d read a book recently where the main character cooked chicken for dinner every night. This marked the passing of time, but did the reader really need to read about dinner prep more than once? Or was it even necessary to include dinner at all? And why chicken?

Janet read a book where eyes were the main focus. Emotions were described using eyes and an entire section of the novel listed in detail what each character’s eyes looked like at that moment. This might be a cool idea, but if it becomes the only descriptor for all the characters, it’s a writing rut.

In all of these examples, our attention was pulled away from the main points and plots of the books by an overused writing device.

Writing ruts can occur in nonfiction as well as fiction. An engaging metaphor can be used as the foundation of the manuscript, but if the chapter titles, subheads, and illustrations all tie into that metaphor, the word picture becomes overused and pulled beyond its ability to stretch. The reader grows bored with the idea.

What writing ruts have you noticed in books you’ve read? No need to mention book or author, just describe the distracting element.

Do you tend to have a typical rut or type of rut that you fall into in your writing?

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