Temptation: What’s your weakness?

by Pari

Halloween is a dangerous time at our house. Two or three weeks before the holiday begins, the bags of candy start rolling in — creamy MilkyWays, satisfying Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, crunchy Kit Kats — and get stowed, supposedly for safe keeping, on the shelves in my office closet.

I’m all right as long as the packages remain closed. But once my husband breaks into them, all bets are off. My willpower dissolves in the acid of desire. It’s ugly. If you could see me now, you’d cower at the glazed look in my eyes, the sugar-induced tremors coursing through my body, the stacks of empty Smarties’ wrappers on every surface of my desk . . .

Writing has the same pitfalls. I try to stay on the straight-and-narrow. I yearn to avoid excessive commas, errant ellipses, those alluring semicolons. Inevitably, something sets me off, some scene will remove the figurative finger from my dike of self-control and blow my abstinence to smithereens.

Yep. You guessed it.

I’m a metaphor slut, an anaolgy ho.

I don’t say this proudly. I’ve tried to mend my ways. I memorized the twelve steps at Flourishers’ Anonymous and, in a horrid moment of relapse, rewrote them all. Electric shock therapy just felt good. Tough love wasn’t tough enough.

Late at night when I can’t sleep, I lay the blame on my addiction to poetry. Damn you, Wallace Stevens! Curse you, William Carlos Williams. I’m thinking of sending my behavioral therapy bills to novelist Alice Hoffman. Believe me, every morning when the sun greets the crisp blue sky, I vow to unclutter my prose. By noon, I’m a simpering metaphorical mess.

As a reader, I’ve noticed other writers have particular weaknesses, too. I find solace in that.

For example: Most authors have favorite words. C.J. Cherryh, whose works I enjoy tremendously, loves the word "coolth."  I’m pretty sure she made it up and whenever I delve into one of her books, I look for it.

There are adverb junkies, sex-scene jonesers, multiple adjectival inserters, pedantic peacocks prone to alliteration, and experts who’ll spend more time writing about how a clock was made than plotting the entire story.

Authors have preferred actions too: standing, sitting, leaning a head against a shoulder, widening eyes, narrowing lips. Eyes twinkle, throats scratch.

We all do it. Every writer’s literary addictions come through.

So let’s roll around in the chocolate pleasure of conversation, the fondue of free speech.

What’s your writing temptation?
Have you noticed any author’s addictions? (Do you like them? Dislike?)
Or, simply . . . What’s your favorite candy this season?

Me? Since the Smarties are gone, I’m moving on to Paydays. I pick off all the peanuts first and then eat the gooey core . . . but that’s another post. 

44 thoughts on “Temptation: What’s your weakness?

  1. Joyce Tremel

    I use the word “just” at least three times on every page. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can edit them out as I write. I also had a character who was always flipping open her cell phone.

    As for Halloween candy, I buy peanut butter cups only because I don’t like them.

  2. Jake Nantz

    Pari,Oh no, you’re asking me to be a reflective WRITER? Teacher, yes. But writer? Oooh, bad bad bad. Why? Nodding and shaking the head. I feel like the most pathetic loser when I can’t come up with any other way to show how someone REPEATEDLY does this (cuase we all do in life).

    I also have the sigh problem Mr. Rhoades mentioned, but have so far avoided catching the shrugs.

  3. billie

    I tend to way over-choreograph the physical movement of characters. It started when I was in the first person voice of my first novel main character – who in her hyper-vigilance, noted everything around her, constantly.

    But it became too much, and not only did I have to pare it back then, I since have to watch for it in every novel I write.

    As for the candy… Smarties are the ones I pick out of Halloween loot.

    We never buy the Halloween candy until the day of Halloween – it’s like having Halloween for weeks on end if we do. 🙂

  4. Wilfred Bereswill

    First things first: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The only candy I ever need.

    For me as I rush through the first draft, there is a proliferation of “GOT”‘s,

    I use that magical tool in Word to find all occurences and highlight them and I go about killing as many as I can.

    In hes early writing, Stephen King used a lot of old Maine country dialect (I assume it’s old Maine dialect). I remember the words “Laws” used in a way that sounded foreign. Like “My Laws!” But who am I to criticize a master?

  5. pari

    Dang, Joyce,”Just” is one of my favs as well, but its occurrence is far more frequent in my drafts than in yours. At least that’s just what it sounds like 😉

  6. pari

    Yep, Jake,(She writes nodding her head) It’s true that many of our characters’ heads would fall right off from all that shaking and nodding.

    My characters also tilt and cock their heads often.

    I’ve got a standing appointment for them at a virtual chiropractor.

  7. pari

    Billie,I know what you mean. Thank goodness we have many opportunities to edit all of that out before it drags the story down too much.

    I used to do that with scenery too; I wanted to introduce New Mexico so much to people that I’d write every traffic sign. I hope I’ve conquered that one by now.

  8. pari

    Laws, yes, Will,I remember those.

    And “got”? Sheesh. I’m beginning to worry I’ll have to go through my manuscript yet again to catch all of those.

    . . . says Pari, opening another round of candy.

  9. B.G. Ritts

    I am particularly fond of alliteration. It’s a game. About thirty-five years ago, my brother, sister and I were driving across country on a trip to the Grand Canyon. To help pass the time, my sister and I started making up (and extending as much as possible) sentences that had all words beginning with the same letter. At first my brother joined in, but after a while he was no longer amused with us. (‘P’ seemed to work best.)

    My favorite candies for Halloween (or any other time) are Hershey’s ‘special’ dark chocolate kisses, Chunky and Snickers bars. I know I shouldn’t, but what’s the point in buying stuff I don’t like?

  10. Lori G. Armstrong

    In every manuscript I end up having one word that becomes a favorite and I use it the point it sticks out like a sore thumb (I, too, am a cliche’ ho at times) so I diligently excise it. Previous faves have been – “lean” the beloved “got” and “look” and “took” and oddly enough, goddamn.

    I’m with Billie, I never buy Halloween candy until the day of Halloween, and I no longer buy candy I like because I have ZERO willpower. Luckily my kids and I don’t like the same kinds, so it works out. They currently are into Laffy Taffy, Nerds, Shock-Tarts, sour Spree…

  11. Marianne

    I’m working on a first draft and am diligently highlighting anything that’s remotely repetitive (two pages apart) and marking them for future thought. I’ve noticed that my current over use (five times in 63 pages) is a variation on “looked/gazed at her speculatively” – it’s starting to creep my protagonist out. Maybe I’ll use that in the story. 😀

    I’m sticking to what’s recommended by the ‘how to write texts’ even though I’m not a complete amateur. I edit as I go, and re-edit and refine with further read throughs. Final weaving of texture waits until after the first draft is complete. Thank god I’ve gotten past the over compensating analogies and metaphors…

    We purposely haven’t bought any Halloween candy this year – we live in a condo, so no kids come trick or treating, and we’re both on diets. That however did not stop me from sneaking a Fry’s Turkish Delight (chocolate covered) last night! 😀


  12. woodstock

    Recently diagnosed diabetes has moved candy to the category of distant memories, growing more distant each day. – Pause for sympathetic sighs – Thank you. I always enjoyed the “sour gummy bear” types of stuff, and Ghiardelli’s chocolate square things. But this year I’ve got a couple of packages of bubble gum to hand out -it won’t tempt me when the holiday is past.

    As far as author’s weakness go – I’ve always noticed Peter Robinson’s tendency to have Inspector Banks notice the living room furniture when he enters a home for an investigative interview. There’s almost always nothing added to the story flow by that detail. It doesn’t bother me, exactly, but I conintue to notice it and wonder why it’s in there.

  13. Louise Ure

    Like Joyce, I’m a “just” person. There are so many perfectly fine occasions for using it that I just can’t help myself.

    And I have no candy jones at all. But offer me a loaf of sourdough and I’m yours forever.

  14. pari

    B.G,I’m totally with you on the candy. There’s no sense in buying stuff you won’t be able to eat later (or earlier).

    And alliteration always amuses. I play that same game all the time with my daughters. My husband can’t stand it for long.

  15. pari

    Lori,You’re fortunate to have such different candy preferences in your home. We’re a chocolate and . . . have I mentioned Smarties yet?

    I wish I could say it’s only one word that repeats throughout a manuscript, but I’m not that fortunate. Editing would be so much easier.

  16. pari

    Marianne,Which texts are you following? I’m curious. I’ve found that I don’t write to a particular method at all . . . my “approach” is very idiosyncratic.

    As to candy, I’ll have to check out that Turkish Delight. After reading the Narnia Chronicles, my kids wanted to know what it was.

  17. Tammy Cravit

    Excessive sighing is a problem for me, too. That and descriptions of tone-of-voice, when showing same via action would probably be better. Those are usually the first things I kill on revision.

    As for favorite candy? Not one I’ve ever gotten for Halloween, but Lindor truffle balls (http://www.worldwidechocolate.com/shop_lindt_404.html) get me every time. Skor bars are good too. I also love Aero bars, but you can’t get them in the US, I don’t think.

  18. pari

    Woodstock,You do have my sympathy. When I was pregnant with my second child, I had gestational diabetes during Halloween and didn’t eat a bite of candy. I know I’m a candidate for the big D down the road, but I’m enjoying myself for now.

    I love your observation about Peter Robinson’s protag. I was hoping some readers would chime in. It’d be interesting to ask him why he includes those details . . .

    Aren’t you tempted?

  19. pari

    Tammy,You’re giving me even more to get rid of in this manuscript I thought was almost done — ARGH.

    What are Aero bars? You interest me strangely.

  20. JT Ellison

    I’m a cliche ho in real life, but thankfully avoid it (and exclamation points) in my books. What I can’t seem to get away from is the term “the irony was not lost on her.” Every book it’s there at least four times until I edit it out. I don’t know what it is about irony that turns me on so.

    John Sandford – every book – has Davenport tackle someone, “riding him down.” Drives me nuts.

    I’m a huge Smarties fan, and peanut butter cups. But I tire of chocolate and sweets easily these days, thank goodness!

  21. toni mcgee causey

    The words just, looked, and followed. Sometimes I wonder if my subconscious was secretly having a contest to see how many of those it could cram on a page.

    Peanut butter cups. Butterfingers. (sigh) I tried to avoid buying those or anything else I liked because I would “just one more” myself into eating the whole bag. I’d buy sour stuff or anything with coconut.

  22. Tom

    I’ve had a CJ Cherryh jones for years and years. She’s got her own set of twitches, but I can’t say ‘coolth’ ever jumped out at me.

    “But,” “just,” and endless serial “and” chains – my encumbrances.

    And then there’s the damn Hallowe’en candy – Reese’s are the best, and therefore the worst, by me.

    You know, Pari, I think Alexandra would like Morgaine and Pyanfar. Might be a revelation to her.

  23. pari

    So, Toni,How many CAN you cram on a page? I’m up to about three or four each.

    My problem is that I like almost all sweets — even when they’re sour or coconut filled.

  24. pari

    Tom,Which are your fav C.J.Cherryh’s? I really like the Foreigner series because of the beauty of the cross-cultural conundrums.

    I’m sorry to say I haven’t read Morgaine or Pyanfar. Mayhaps I should.

  25. Tammy Cravit

    Pari, Aero bars are a Nestle concoction sold (according to Wikipedia) primarily in Ireland, the UK, Canada and Australia. It’s essentially a milk chocolate bar filled with tiny air bubbles. The outside coating is smooth chocolate, but the inside resembles a sponge, and they’re just heavenly.

    I developed my fondness for them growing up in Canada, and occasionally my sister deigns to feed my addiction and send me a couple. (Usually accompanied by light-hearted scolding that a Canadian would choose to live in California; a fair price, I think, to pay for the pleasure.)

    There’s also a mint-flavored Aero bar that’s green on the inside, but I never cared much for those ones.


  26. Dana King

    I have the ADD version of these afflictions. If I come upon a word I like a lot early in the writing day, it tends to multiply like mushrooms in a comppost heap. I have to go back the next day and cut them all out. Sometimes even the first one, because after a good night’s sleep i realize it wasn’t the best choice, after all.

  27. pari

    Dana,You have my sympathy and admiration. It usually takes me a couple of passes to really notice the main culprits. I rarely can spot them the day after.

  28. Marianne


    I’ve read several texts over the years, and many I have discarded because I’ve noted down one thing in them and the rest hasn’t stuck. I have a small selection of ‘keepers’ for my children’s writing. (fingers crossed that the dinosaur book we did last fall has found a new publisher now. Yippeee). But the current favourites are: Writers Digest Book “Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell (4 thumbs up!); “Writing Mysteries; A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America” ed by Sue Grafton, et al (4 thumbs up!); and “You Can Write a Mystery” by Gillian Roberts (5 thumbs up!). The rest of my notes are from writers panels at various conventions over the years. The quote of ‘knowing your characters well will have them write their own story’ came from a writers panel at a convention called Bubonicon in Albuquerque this summer, and my notes from Bouchercon on my Muse du Jour Blog (http://musedujour.blogspot.com/). I also have a couple of other books that are just fun to read, like: ‘Talk to the Hand’ and ‘Eats, Shoots, and Leaves’, etc.

    I got given a few very old ‘how to write’ books while I was in high school in the 1970s. One of them stayed with me for a long time – especially the opening chapter about writing a striking opening paragraph. Hmm. Maybe I should go dig that out of my boxes at my parents house next time I’m over home (Australia).

    Turkish Delight, Cherry Ripes, Iced VoVo cookies, and about a hundred other Aussie sweet delicacies just burped into the back of my mind. Dang, now I’ll just end up giving up the fight and having another TD for afternoon tea. Sigh. REAL TURKISH DELIGHT is even better than the candy bar! Well, except the Creme de Menthe one that tastes like toothpaste…my british Mother in Law brought that home last time she returned from England – it is definitely an acquired taste. And yes, I’ll also stand up proudly and say “I’m a Vegemite Kid”! 😀


  29. Marianne

    Yep, Aero bars are sold on the British shelf in Shaws supermarkets’ ‘shop the world’ aisles. And yes, the minty ones of those are also an acquired taste. 😀

    Much prefer the Cadbury’s Roast Almond bars…


  30. Becky Lejeune

    Oy! Ya’ll are all going to make me run to the candy stash now! And to all you overseas folk who can readily get your hands on real Cadbury, I hate you! Pari, Turkish Delight is nasty, nasty. You either love it or hate it and I fall into the latter. My dad love the stuff, though. I think I’ll have to stick to my frozen Reese’s and Twix, though if I could get my hands on some Cadbury Picnics or Crunchies, I would be in heaven.

    I’m really sensitive to some author habits, but only while I am reading a book. The book I’m reading now is “actually” this and “acutally” that, drives me nuts because they’re in consecutive sentences. Fortunately, they don’t stick out enough to stay with me once I’ve finished reading the books.

  31. Tom

    “I’m sorry to say I haven’t read Morgaine or Pyanfar. Mayhaps I should.”

    Oy. Gewalt. Gottinu.

    The FOREIGNER books are magnificent achievements in storytelling AND cultural anthropology. I love them immoderately, nothing badji-nadji about it.

    But to see CJ at her most open and her most fundamental, you must read the GATE stories (ripped off by Hollywood). To see her write from the POV of otherness, and create a multicultural sea story to rival Forrester, you want – really want – to read the CHANUR stories.

  32. Becky Hutchison

    My too frequent words are “if only,” “however” and “because,” and my parentheses are too numerous to count. I go through my draft with the “Find” button and either delete or replace those words.

    As for author addition issues, I’ve tried reading Tom Clancy’s books but get bogged down with all the technical gobbledy-goop. For PATRIOT GAMES I finally gave up and watched the movie instead.

    I start buying Halloween candy about one month ahead so I can spread out the exorbitant cost of a mixed bag. I mostly buy a lot of stuff I don’t like. However I always get one bag of Brach’s Candy Corn for my husband and a bag of Mr Goodbars for me. Once those two bags are eaten, I’m through…until Halloween night. Then my husband, son and I go through my son’s goodies, pick what we want and put the remainder back into circulation in our trick-or-treat bowl.

  33. Tom

    “Which are your fav C.J.Cherryh’s?”

    Sorry, I didn’t answer you directly, Pari; if I can choose only one, it has to be DOWNBELOW STATION (from which comes Signy Mallory, whose acquaintance Alex might also enjoy).

    Did I mention I write too many parentheticals (’cause I do)? They’re like the chocolate wrapper half of the peanut butter cup.

  34. Jill James

    You would think after so many times I wouldn’t have to find and replace ‘that’, but I do. 🙁

    I buy chocolate with peanuts for Halloween so I won’t eat it. Except for Reese’s. I adore those. LOL

  35. pari

    Hey all,I’m answering slowly. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut. Between Tony’s death and having just found out about Elaine Flinn, it’s too much.

    There isn’t enough chocolate in the world to drown out this loss.

  36. Hank Phillippi Ryan

    Oh, yeah. I did an “edit-find” for Just. And then Shrug. And then Grin. And then, Then. I had everyone just shrugging and then just grinning. Which, in real life, people hardly ever do. I took them all out.

    Guess I need a whole bunch of TWIZZLERS.

  37. Jude Hardin

    I have to resist the urge to use too many similes, thus sounding like a Chandler parody.

    I like those peanut butter chewy candies that come wrapped in orange or black waxpaper. I think I’m the only one.


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