Though we’re not plagiarists, we writers are definitely thieves. One of us will come up with a clever turn of phrase or an effective action beat, and next thing you know, it’s everywhere — in every book we read — and we have no clue who was the brain who thought it up to begin with.
Rolling eyes, gazes meeting, and turning on a heel to walk away are all becoming old to me. I see them all the time. And guess what? I use them all the time, too.
It’s frustrating. I’ve seen authors who try something different, and sometimes what they’ve written in their attempt to be fresh and original doesn’t quite work. Not for me, anyway. My mind tends toward the logical. Can a person really feel it in his spleen when he’s afraid? Frankly, I can’t tell you where the spleen is.
Sometimes, we use the familiar phrases because they’re quick and easy. I do. When I’m on a roll–on those rare occasions when my muse is hyped up on Red Bull–I don’t want to stop to figure out a more imaginative way to put something. Especially when it’s just an action beat in an otherwise fast-paced clip of dialogue. Problem is, I don’t keep my promise to myself to come up with something better when I go back and edit. Quick and easy has its perks, and apparently I’m just as content with them as everyone else.
What got me started on this? Well, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to read a lot this year, both published and unpublished works, and one of the phrases that keeps coming up is this: “He raked a hand through his hair.” It’s in almost everything I’ve read in one form or another. “He raked/ran/dragged a hand through his hair.” It’s supposed to be a sign of masculine worry or frustration, although I’ve never seen any man in my life actually do it. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I do see the action portrayed on TV occasionally.
Yesterday, I got my proofs in for The Final Ride. Few things are more exciting than holding your newest in your hands. I fondled it lovingly. Flipped through the pages and whiffed in the smell of paper and ink. Admired the cover Lynnette Bonner designed. I read passages in it and giggled all over again.
Then I flipped to an argument my two characters engaged in and found this: “He raked a hand through his hair.”
I wonder how many times I used it in the same manuscript, but I’m afraid to count. The book is just a few months away from market. I intend to have several printed before public release to sell at festivals and speaking engagements. I don’t have time to go through and try to be “original.”
Best I can do is to promise myself to do better next time. Because, frankly, I’d love to be the first to write some creative turn of phrase that everyone else steals. Imitation is a compliment, right? But if you beat me to it, expect me to steal yours. Me, and every other writer out there who reads your work. Because writers are, after all, a bunch of thieves.