3 Common Problems Which Offend The Reader’s Intelligence

As writers we can become so caught up in telling our story, that we inadvertently slip into bad habits which can offend the reader’s intelligence. I’m talking about simple issues which we can become more mindful of. So here’s a list to aid you.

Adverb Overuse

 “He grinned happily.”  Here, the obvious is stated with the verb “grinned,” and the adverb “happily” isn’t needed for your reader to understand the context of what you’ve written. One should just say, “He grinned.”

“She screamed loudly.”  Um, as opposed to screaming softly? I know I got the meaning from “she screamed.” What about you?

“She whispered quietly.”   Because one can whisper loudly?

Yeah, I imagine my meaning is becoming clear on adverb overuse. As writers, we simply need to take care when using them. We need to consider what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Which brings me to the times when you will need to take your verb and add an essence which is more than what’s being implied. In those cases you will need to extend. Eg– “She whispered conspiratorially.” “She whispered hastily.” There’s a reason beyond, and here you’re taking the whisper and specifically quantifying it, and that’s all good.

Ellipses (…) Yes, Those Three Dots

Even though I understand why writers use ellipses, that they wish to make the scene more dramatic with a pause, I…still…cringe…because…I…want…to…read…faster. See, annoying isn’t it?

Although my moment of humor aside, I can’t deny ellipses do have their place so don’t get me wrong, but what I’m asking is that you take care with them, ensuring you only use them where absolutely necessary. Think sparingly–that’s best.

Unnecessary Point Proving

Here are some examples–

He stormed from the room in anger.

He scowled with condemnation.

She cried tears of frustration.

In the first example the character is “storming from the room in anger.” Say this has arisen from a heated argument between your characters, then your reader will understand he’s angry because you’ve portrayed it correctly. Readers don’t need things spelled out to them. You can just say, “He stormed from the room.” The second and third examples are the same. If the scene shows your hero’s condemnation and your heroine’s frustration arising from the same heated argument, then don’t go doubling up, by showing and telling your readers. They’ll get it. Keeping things simple never hurts, and adding qualifiers to prove our point can at times have the opposite effect to what we’re after.

Now in saying this, there will also be times when it’s perfectly acceptable to use qualifiers, but never forget, it’s strong dialogue and narrative which should carry a scene. Judge it for yourself, but if you’ve drawn a scene well, then your reader will be able to ascertain all that is needed without any overuse of words which state the obvious. Again, think sparingly–that’s all.

Well, I hope my blog post this week has been helpful, and if you haven’t joined me for your weekly dose of bite-sized writing tidbits and you’d like to, then simply check out the right-hand side panel, and enter your email address to “follow the blog.”  If you want, also click “like” on my FB author page to the right.  I love all the support.

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17 thoughts on “3 Common Problems Which Offend The Reader’s Intelligence

  1. Don’t forget the ever-popular, “He grinned faintly.”

    What does that even MEAN?! Grinning by definition is cat-ate-the-canary or gleeful or ear to ear. How does ‘faintly’ come into it?

  2. I agree – I love the three little dots… lol
    Great blog topic and something we can all relate to as writers (and readers…)

    Keep up the great job!

  3. I am an ellipses user. Guilty as charged. And I like it! 😉
    About the whispering … my husband is a loud whisperer. So, I do have to disagree about that one point. Also, there is the stage whisper. So, whispering is not the full use of one’s voice but still can be varying degrees of loudness, in my opinion.
    Glad I found your blog. I’m now following.

  4. Great topic Joanne! I admit to making these mistakes when I first began writing fanfic way back in the day, but over the years I’ve grown out of them. I notice some dissent in the ranks in terms of the use of qualifiers, like the person who mentioned whispering loudly and they made a good point. *I* have personally used “She cried tears of frustration”. Or, she could be crying tears of happiness or devastation (we know she’s sad, but ‘devastated’ shows the depth of her sadness)

    I agree with you as well as your other followers, that there are times when qualifiers work, and times when they *definitely* don’t! It’s just a common sense thing. With me (and I’m sure every writer), I just go with it and trust my instincts.

    I like what you said about using ellipses sparingly. I heard a similar thing about semicolons – that they should be used the way we drink champagne: in moderation. (semicolons for me = confusing!)

    Thank you so much for this awesome topic!

    Oh and btw, (unrelated to this) I have been giving a lot of thought to your thoughts on Twitter. You might manage to convert me – not yet, but eventually xx

    1. Hi Cadence

      I have to tell you, I love your comments. And you’re right about semicolons–these too must be used sparingly. You’re onto it.

      Also, in regard to your other comment about italized internal thoughts, I’ll expand on what Dana said so we’re all on the same page. The use of italizing internal thoughts when writing in 3rd person, is like momentarily dropping into a pocket of DEEP POV, so in effect the writer is mixing two writing techniques into one for a fraction of time. As you mentioned there are some great authors who will have internal thoughts italized, and there’s not a problem with this. (Except for when you write for a publishing house who has house rules about not mixing writing POV’s, and so I’ll explain the simple and easy fix below for the author.)

      The Fix– So what the author will do is simply reword the small portion of italized internal thought. Don’t worry, because the thought is still there, but the author rewords it to ensure it returns to 3rd person POV, so the flow of the scene remains in one POV.

      I hope I explained that all right. Because the internal thought isn’t gone, it’s just reworded back to 3rd POV, making the scene nice and tidy.

      Now in saying all that, like you, I like seeing the internal thoughts coming through. It adds a personal touch to the scene, but I can also see the other side of the coin, where the flow of one POV takes precedence.

      I’m smiling about your last line about Twitter–that I may convert you yet. Funny. If you ever do come across, I can introduce you to some fantastic and amazing indie authors who have published recently with KDP select on amazon. Fabulous writers–all of them.


  5. Greetings from a fellow LP author – thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂 Great advice, and I’ll definitely enjoy perusing more of your entries and picking up tips as I keep slogging through my WIP. I have a confession – I’m in a dysfunctional relationship with ellipses. I can’t help it! But I’m making a conscious effort to edit at least half of them out of my stories. Also am learning to drop my italicized inner thoughts. I was amazed what a difference those changes made in my first round of pre-edits!

    Okay, off to read more. Best wishes!


    1. Sorry, I know I’m butting in but, why drop italicized inner thoughts? John Saul, Stephen King, VC Andrews and others all use that technique and they are top-selling writers.

      I think I need to step away from author blogs. I see so many contradicting ‘do this, don’t do that’ and as I said in my earlier comment, I feel a writer needs to do what is best for them and their story. A writer needs to have enough confidence in themselves to know that their style and technique is okay, and that, after all, is what gives a writer their style. King has a style and either readers like it or not etc etc.

      I feel dropping inner thoughts is a mistake. I as a reader, I love seeing the inner machinations of a character, especially a baddie character 🙂 But see? What is right for one is not for another.

    2. @Cadence – no worries about butting in. I love these kinds of discussions. I agree that lots of do’s and don’ts seem to be contradictory. I figure if I ever make it to the big time like King or Andrews, I’ll be able to do whatever the hell I like (including lots and lots of internal monologues and ellipses, or so totally go all JR Ward with the product placement). Until then, I’m going to follow at least some of these conventions.

      I’m glad to know that other folks out there love inner thoughts – what the editorial guidelines I received suggested were more along the lines of keeping third person POV versus switching to first: say:

      She smiled at him, waved, and watched him walk out the door. Her smile faded when she heard the familiar click of high heels on the tiled floors out in the corridor, moving closer.

      *Great, just what I needed today.* (italics)


      She smiled at him, waved, and watched him walk out the door. Her smile faded when she heard the familiar click of high heels on the tiled floors out in the corridor, moving closer.

      Great, just what she needed today.

      Honestly, I could go either way, but going through the editorial suggestions clued me in on the fact that I was going waaaaaaaaay overboard. Took it down a notch or two. Worked much better.

      @Joanne – Thanks for the great post and inspiring such a great convo about craft!

  6. Hi Dana and Joanne,

    Thank you both for your wonderful replies! I’m glad I’m not the only one who enjoys some good writing discussion. I know you guys receive editing criteria from houses that you must adhere to, and I know different houses may not have identical rules. I feel I’m definitely more suited to indie publishing. I’ve submitted and had published stories to online publications and I feel my submissions were well edited.

    I wanted to share a fun story about POV and how I once got away with mixing 1st and 3rd in a story by use of a character’s personal log (it was a sci-fi short – think Capt Kirk dictating his personal log). I didn’t have a ton of logs as to make it annoying but I had a few which served to move the story forward at key points. I wasn’t sure if I would get away with that but the story was accepted. I didn’t feel it was jarring and I guess the editor didn’t either. It isn’t something I’ve made a habit of, but I felt it served that particular story well.

    I haven’t read the Star Trek novels out there but I’ve been told by some friends who read them that in some stories there are logs written in 1st and the rest is in 3rd.

    I’ll be quiet now. As usual I’m long-winded in these posts :/

    1. Hi Cadence.

      Thank you for sharing, and for mentioning your short sci-fi. I’ve read Sherrilyn Kenyon’s book “Acheron” and it’s a NY Times bestseller. It sounds similar to what you mentioned you wrote, where the first 1/3 of the book is in 1st person and details a character’s personal journal/log, then the last 1/3 changes to 3rd Person. It was how it needed to be written–and it’s one of my favorite stories to today.

      Sometimes that’s exactly what’s called for.

      You have a great day.


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