Writing Ruts

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Zurakowski

Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

I was reading a non-work-related novel over the weekend and found that I was slowly being driven crazy by the continuous mention of CHILDREN! I love kids, don’t get me wrong, 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.

As I was discussing this 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.

Our attention was pulled away from the main points and plots of the books by an overused writing device.

I’ve also encountered authors who use the same words over and over again. One author I’ve read refers to young people as “youths” in nearly every book she’s written.  Another author refers to character complexions as “sugar and spice.” I’m not even sure what that means in reference to a complexion.

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.

15 Responses

Leave a Reply

  1. Nicole says:

    A condition or reason for doing something or feeling a certain way. Give us a couple of times and we do catch on, you know? Repetition of the impetus for certain actions does occasionally make me want to scream. 😉

  2. Teri Dawn Smith says:

    I recently read a book where the timeline spread over two or more years so every chapter had back story to bring the reader up to date.

  3. Lynn Rush says:

    Great post. Interesting concept the rut thing. I’m with Teri Dawn Smith. . . the back story stuff drives me bonkers. 🙂

    Have a great day.

  4. Nicole says:

    I don’t mind backstory if it’s done well. I mean, every story has some. And if it’s always done one way, it’s boring.

  5. I’m guilty of the dinner prep thing, only with me it’s eating dinner. My characters always discuss important info over dinner.

    One rut that comes immediately to mind is authors having characters go to sleep at unexpected times. It’s as if the authors don’t know what to write about next so they have the main characters all decide to take naps. A related problem is authors with excess characters who go to sleep or get sick or are called away by someone on the phone. Instead of cutting them when they realize they are excess baggage, the authors find a way to shuffle them offstage. The reader is left wondering why they were ever brought to the front in the first place, only to be removed again so soon.

  6. Kristi Holl says:

    I had a great editor who used to warn me about my ruts. Often she said she felt my characters were on the verge of having coronaries. In re-reading, I was shocked at how often their hearts pounded, hearts hammered, hearts skipped beats, etc. I am still prone to send characters into cardiac arrest, but at least now I know what to weed out. 😎

  7. patriciazell says:

    As a writer of non-fiction, my favorite writing tool is my thesaurus because I hate using the same word (unless necessary) than once every 500 words or so. I try to watch out for ruts and keep my writing as lively as possible. Thanks for your encouragement!

  8. Lucy says:

    Very useful post!

    I think my characters must be victims of laryngitis, because they’re always getting choked up. 😀

    At least I don’t have to plead guilty to making all the men young, rich, handsome, dark and cynical until they are reformed by the innocent, ethereal beauty who can’t articulate two words in a row. I name no names, but the author is–ahem–well known.

  9. Lucy says:

    That didn’t read right; there should have been a semi-colon in there. I wouldn’t imply that falling in love makes them ugly, LOL.

  10. I’ve noticed pet phrases in a favorite author’s books. Of course, I did decide to read all her books in a one-month time span, so I may have been extra sensitive. If I had spread them out, it probably wouldn’t have jumped out as much. 🙂

  11. Dave Ebright says:

    Rats – I thought you were going to ‘splain how to get outta my writing rut! 12 weeks & counting.

    Recently read a book that kept jumping into biology lessons. When I finished, I looked inside the back cover to see if I’d earned a degree – or maybe the right to practice as a veterinarian. Need a cougar’s spleen removed? I’m your guy.

  12. Matthew says:

    Oh, it’s really funny when the author doesn’t understand that the topic must be interesting but not annoying )
    If you have not really much time and need to get a good paper- you may use the professional writing service and buy diisertation without such mistakes)))

  13. Rachel Zurakowski says:

    Dave, I’m glad to know I can contact you next time I see an ailing cougar. 🙂

    As Patricia pointed out, a thesaurus is a wonderful tool if you find you’re frequently using the same words.

  14. Cat Woods says:

    Name dropping. I hate it in real life and reading it gives me the hives. I understand the need for details, but not every detail has to have a price tag to make it count.

    Great post.

  15. Dave, we recently became aware of a cougar in our neck of the woods and want the whole cougar removed!

    I think all authors have to be aware of “pet phrases” because everyone writing is guilty. I do think Kristin is right–a sharp-eyed editor or even crit partner will help shave those ruts down. I suppose if you are aware of your over usage of certain scenarios or pet phrases, you could go through and highlight them to see how disproportionate they are.

    It does make you nervous to think that you are boring your reader (or maybe worse, making them tear out their hair!) over your repetitions.

    Help us!

    (And I’m really curious as to what you were reading.LOL.)