Oh, the dreaded repetition, always showing up, rearing its head as part of an unconscious bias as your fingers type across the page. Characters raising their brows or cocking their heads and everly speaking in dry manners. Characters turn and turn again, they sneak quick glances or stare unashamedly and hold each other’s gazes as if in a staring contest.
A lot of these phrases are used by millions of authors and I’m sure non-English speaking writers have their own bevy of phrases that crop in every tale known to man.
Some authors have their own specific words they seem to have fallen in love with. For instance, I once read a series where every male character would stalk across the room and pop their jaw (ouch?). Read another where every person was described as ingenious. Great word, ingenious, but its likely not every character meets its requirements.
Sometimes, a group of writers all joined by a social circle will use certain words or phrases in their books (the schlep phenomenon comes to mind).
As for me? I have my own specific quirks, notwithstanding the above mentioned plethora of head-cocking and dry-speaking. But here’s the rub…it’s incredibly hard to pinpoint your own overused phrases. There might very well be a million of them, yet unless the phrases are long enough and specific enough, it won’t stick out in my mind.
Here’s a paraphrase of one I’ve used a few times: “They do X, Y, Z, but he didn’t even know who ‘they’ were.” I’ve stumbled across myself using that one in both novels and short stories many times. Sometimes I catch it and edit the comments into something different. Sometimes I don’t catch it at all.
Another I use is a nostalgic beginning. I lean into a certain way of starting some stories: “Once he’d been…” or “There’d been a time…” or “Before he’d never…” and “Now he wasn’t so sure…” These types of phrasing all lend themselves to evoking a sense of loss or a sense of time passing, essentially that nostalgia I mentioned. It’s a hard habit to break because oftentimes I really like the feeling it calls and I’m not so sure what other powerful emotion I could replace it with.
I’m sure there’s many other examples. And I’m just as sure if you’re a reader you’ve caught plenty of these kinds of phrases from your favorite authors, just as I have. Habits are hard things to break though, especially when it all reads perfectly fine to you.