Well, that and I'm addicted to craft books. But I can't tell you whether this habit of mine is in any of them. Like most of the lessons which make the most sense to me, I think it's just from life experience and noticing patterns.
I love to write dialogue. In fact, when I write, it's in layers, and dialogue is what comes to me first. I blast through it like a screenplay and then go back to try and layer in narrative/emotions/yaddayaddafoo. Today, while revising, I noticed a pattern--a habit--and I'm not sure whether it's a good or a bad one.
I swap out colloquialisms and pat phrases with character-specific synonymous new phrases. Since I like to label people crazy, so we'll use that as as an example.
Old Stand-bys for the crazy-labeling:
- She's crazy. (generic, on-the-nose, uninteresting)
- She's nuttier than a fruitcake. (sillier, but still generic and cliched)
- He's not playing with a full deck. (so commonly said it's generic)
Swapped out with character-specific phrases:
(Examples from actual family sayings. Yes, we're a colorful lot.)
- He's a half-a-bubble off plumb. (Credit: Dad, the carpenter)
- Some of the suds have gone out of her dishwater. (Credit: Stay-at-home mom)
- He's not painting with a full palette. (Credit: Me! Art chick likey)
I do the phrase-swapping willy-nilly, sometimes first draft, sometimes in revisions, sometimes I take it back out if it looks dumb later. And, of course, it's not just for the 'She's Crazy' phrases. Anything that is super-cliched is a possible target.
I don't know if this is good because it defines character voices, or if it'd be irritating in anything but miniscule numbers. Thoughts?