One of the reasons I’d never make a good book reviewer is that I have far, far too many pet hates in writing. In the one book review I’ve written I commented that the dialogue was bland and merely functional, but then I realised that that’s a comment I’d probably make about the majority of books and no one would ever see what particular blandness I’m referring to. But I do like my pet hates because they guide my own writing; my theory is that even if I’m not writing brilliantly, if I at least avoid using my pet hates then my writing won’t be as bad as I think other people’s is. In the end, my own opinion is the one that’s the most important to me.

My ultimate pet hate is “he/she swore under his/her breath”. This is a phrase that’s only used in books, and people only write it because they’ve read it in other books. As soon as I read this in a book I stop reading it, because it demonstrates the writer’s utter, utter lack of imagination that they’re reproducing this line verbatim without questioning it or trying to think of their own one of the infinite number of variations that are better merely by virtue of their originality, such as “he/she swore as quietly as sin” or “he/she swore so quietly not even the Fates heard”. Or whatever. Not necessarily great, but infinitely more readable because of their uniqueness. (Actually they are quite bad, but never mind, people in my writing never swear anyway). Even “Shit” he/she said quietly would be better, not because it’s unique but because it doesn’t draw attention to itself.

I realise this post contradicts what I said earlier about not fixating on minor word issues. My explanation is that “he/she swore under his/her breath’ is a major word issue.

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