Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Living, Breathing Dolls

Autumn Foliage,
Thomas Hicks,
oil, 1872.

I'm fast developing an allergy.

To the word-spore sigh.

Lately, if I see she sighed ... on a page, I'm likely to snot all over it.

Look, we breathe, don't we? In and out. We're hard-wired to inhale and exhale, and sometimes we hold our breath for a moment before letting it go, quite naturally.

I sigh many times during a day.

Like just now when I corrected a typo.

How did such a common and involuntary action become elevated to the level of pseudo-drama? Become a coy announcement of emotional significance? Become such a bloody cliche?


If your character is painted in such flat, two-dimensional terms that you must frequently aggrandize such a minute, mundane, and normal nasal operation to expel carbon dioxide, I suggest you might consider you're following, unthinkingly, a lazy formula.

A Doll of a Different Kind:
As I said in the review/interview posted here by Ello on her thoughtful, articulate blog today -- I am still on a state of astonished delight over the reception of Stone Child, from Weirdly: A Collection of Strange Tales (on the sidebar), and my protagonist Lillie St. Clair.

Thank you, Ello, for your act of generosity, which might be random - but definitely not unkind.


Jaye Wells said...

My first drafts are full of sighs, raised eyebrows and hands on hips. It's painful.

Robyn said...

I do have a hero who sighs when exasperated, but I did it on purpose. He's very alpha and I was looking for something other than the usual stomp 'n swear.

spyscribbler said...

Man, my characters sigh and smile so much it makes me nauseous. Frowning is becoming annoying, too.

I struggle to show reactions in other ways, but I have to. This writing thing is hard! :-)

Savannah Jordan said...

Well, my buttcheeks are stinging after that particular spanking. LOL You've made me rethink that word, Bernita.

Bernita said...

First drafts are a thing entirely apart, Jaye.

If you made it a special and clear characteristic of his, Robyn, that's also a different thing.

And there's this automatic urge to use them as signals, Natasha.

Sorry, Savannah!
Am just tired of a sigh used to suggest Deep, Secret Thoughts, or Inner Conflict - such as the mess the wind is making of her hair.

SzélsőFa said...

As a foreigner to English, I'd like to aask you: is this 'sigh' a good word, basically?
I mean is it neutral or has emotion attached to it?
Is this tendency of wearing this word out sad, or indifferent?

I'm afraid this is happening to many other words/expressions as well. Just as Jaye Wells said: raising eyebrows, hands on hips...

Ello said...

Your very welcome! I really enjoyed doing the post so it was a pleasure for me. And I think I better check my WIP for sighs, I think I have alot of them - might have to change my title from Thousand Year Silence to Thousand Year Sighs...

Savannah Jordan said...

I completely understand where you're coming from, Bernita. For my characters, the sigh is usually more of a contentment thing, or exasperation. If anything, I over use words like 'as' and 'smile'. I'm battling with those right now in editing Melting the Ice Queen.

Charles Gramlich said...

Great review and interview. Nothing to sigh about there.

Bernita said...

It's a perfectly good word, Szelsofa.
It is just that in some contexts and genres it had been over-worked to the point that it lacks little descriptive impact.
And yes, this same thing has happened to other words - they get beaten to death.

Hee, Ello. Thank you.
But, seriously, in the context of "a thousand years" ( as a title) you would re-animate the word and revive its resonance.

Savannah, I sympathize. I've sat and stared at the screen for long minutes, trying to shake myself out of the automatic use of rut-words.

Bernita said...

Except with pleasure, Charles!

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks for enlightening me on the overuse of that word. Now, I'll have to make sure not to use it needlessly or at all. Cool, Bernita; great post. Thanks! :*)~Tyhitia

Lisa said...

For me, sigh is one of those abstract words that's only a stone's throw from saying someone looked angry or sad. Better, I think, to dig deeper and describe what the sigh looks and sounds like exactly -- is there an audible exhale, perhaps the character sounds like he's speaking a long letter "o", are the character's lips pressed together or open, does he do something with his hands, roll his head back and stare at the ceiling? Yes, I agree. Sigh should be banished.

Bernita said...

Thank you, my Demon.
It need a rest.

Not necessarily banished, Lisa, but used with economy.
It really has lot much of its effect, like a dying battery.
And you're right, by such use, it comes periously close to mere telling.

raine said...

Member of the "occasional sigh club". I don't think I overuse it--there are so many other words to abuse...
Great review and interview. Well-deserved. :)

Bernita said...

"I don't think I overuse it--there are so many other words to abuse..."
Raine, thank you.
It bugs me particularly in an opening. We don't quite know yet what's going on and the writer tells us "she sighed" - and I find myself thinking, OK, so she breathed. So what?

The Anti-Wife said...

I hate it when you make me think so hard!


Bernita said...

Aw, you just couldn't resist, could you?

Dave F. said...

An actor friend of mine says things like sighs, shrugs, eyerolls and Snidely Whiplashes moustache twirls are good for film. It's a tight medium and the less physical the movement, (that is, the more cerebral and physically contained) the action is, the better. When heads can be 15 feet high in the movie theater, a squint from Henry Fonda's blue eyes in Once Upon a Time in the West is magnificent.

BUT, on stage, the live broadway stage, only the first row can see a squint. Emotion must be conveyed by big broad actions.

The author of a book has to decide what the reader is to see in their mind - - the tight closeup or the stage action.

When I edit my writing, I try to remove all of the sighs, eyerolls, shoulder shrugs and other type actions that are basically video action and I try to replace them with concrete descriptions. I think it makes for better writing.

Of course, now I'll miss one and get called on it.

Scott from Oregon said...

One of the reasons I have trouble reading works by the ladies... (Forgive the grandiose stereotype, ladies) there is so much emphasis on sighing and twitching, and lips a-quivering...

I've noticed bernita, that you practice what you preach in this regard. You write in bolder notes more suitable for male ears...

Bernita said...

Dave, maybe "sigh" should be replaced with with audibles...aaaaah.

Thank you, Scott.
~flutters her eyelashes in Scott's direction~

writtenwyrdd said...

lovely painting and a very good point, bernita!

Merry Jelinek said...

Well now you have me thinking, one of my main characters sighs on the first page - though I think that's the only sigh in there, now I'm going to scour just to make sure...


moonrat said...

heh heh heh. excellent.

Shesawriter said...



Okay, just kidding. Great post. I've got sighs running all over my manuscript! Revision is the cure.

LadyBronco said...

And I so love using that word. ;0)



Vesper said...

Very interesting and a very good point, Bernita. I'm sure writers are using many cliches in the first draft - I know I do. It's not easy to pick out one's own. But the second time you can search for them in your word processor. "Sigh" is a good word to add to this list. Thanks!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Written.

~growls at Merry~

Thank you, dear Moonmouse.
~for some Western reason - even though I "get" your id - I always feel I'm insulting you when using the "rat" part!~

Hee, Tanya!
~reaches for a tissue~

Et tu, Lady B?

Thank you, Vesper.
We must watch those word-ruts.