Secrets to Writing THE PERFECT PHRASE

Writers should be voracious observers.

  • Listen carefully.
  • Read anything, everything.
  • Watch behaviors.
  • Stare at the sky, the horizon, your backyard, the local park, the grocery store, the mall.
  • Nuggets of WRITING gold can be mined from the most unusual & USUAL places.

I watch America’s Got Talent. Sometimes to prove how out-of-sync that I am with the rest of the population. More often, because I’m continually awed by the gifts of so many.

AGT comedians who entertain the most are the ones who focus on the mundane, the everyday life.

The ones that truly earn my out-loud guffaws are those who keep it every day simple . . . say a grocery store adventure. Not referring to those unique Wal-Mart shoppers here. That’s a completely separate article. Instead, focus on your own last grocery store trip.

Did anything funny/amazing/aggravating happen?

Those real-life, in the mud and muck of each day are what a writer needs to always remember.

For example — Men, who are perfectly capable of driving on the right – correct side of the road – seem to become lane-confused when in the store. They’re always on the wrong side, or pass incorrectly, or block the aisle, and then are terribly confused when they receive death glares from their female counterparts.

Teenagers, who clearly believe in the ‘grocery stork’, are completely lost and will wander aimlessly – and always in your path – when searching for an item.

Mother and daughter shopping in grocery store

The woman on her phone – you’ve seen it too – who is so engrossed in her conversation that it’s impossible for her to shop.

AGT comedians don’t find these encounters aggravating. Well, maybe they do. But they turn these small aggravations into comedy.

Laugh-makers, I term them. The real world with a twist.

That’s the goal of writers – to infuse their pages with real world. It maybe humor; it maybe a romantic encounter; it might be suspense, danger, evil. Keeping it REAL on page allows readers to enter the character’s world and relate. And if your readers can’t switch places with a character . . . if the reader’s heart doesn’t race with fear, thump with love, stop with shock . . . then the writer has failed.

As I DVR my select AGT favorites, I often watch these snippets again and again. Who doesn’t need a laugh pick-me-up after a tough day?

I practice this same repetitive behavior with books.
A familiar book will feed my sanity-starved soul.

Most of writers have ‘keeper’ shelves. Some are a bit obsessive and mark favorite pages . . . passages . . . the perfect turn of the phrase.

Use that behavior to your writing advantage.

Is the narrative in your current WIP detached? Guilty of telling rather than showing? Borderline boring?


Is your dialogue flat? Uninspired? Wasted page space?


Then start your own page of ‘keeper’ phrases, lines, and great passages.

When I began this exercise, it was with the thought I’d capture a couple of memorable one-liners and then share.

The more I read the talented, the more I find to KEEP.

I’ve listed a few here. If you haven’t read these books, I’d suggest a trip no further than your local bookstore. Any of these titles that are in hardback or paperback, I own the permanent copies.

  • Because writers need to be voracious observers.
  • Because reading makes me happy.
  • Most importantly, great writing hones my craft.

I hope you enjoy my list.

‘It’s for his own good. Odd how the gods and humanity used that so often to justify brutality.’ Sherrilyn Kenyon, UPON THE MIDNIGHT CLEAR.

‘Howard Roark laughed.’ Ayn Rand, THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

‘She was the dream he lost at dawn . . . his dream of everything . . .’ Suzanne Elizabeth Phillips, THIS HEART OF MINE.

‘Caitlin mustered up all her courage – all one and a half ounces of it – and walked up the stairs. Stopping at the closed door, she risked a side-long glance at Mr. Mountain Man.’ Sayara St. Claire, HURT ME, HEAL ME.

‘Because when I pray, I say your name first, and I say your name last. When I breathe, I breathe for you. Every kind thing I say, every good thing I do, I do because I know you’re in the world and I . . . I love you.” He smiled at her with his mouth, his eyes . . . his soul.’ Christina Dodd, DANGER IN A RED DRESS

‘People who wanted to challenge the status quo didn’t get to have temper tantrums. They had to be smarter, and calmer, and faster, and better. Beyond reproach, beyond critique. As perfect as a human being could be, because you could whine about fair and unfair all you wanted, but at the end of the day, you did the extra work or you failed.’ Kit Rocha, DEACON(Gideon’s Riders)

‘He’d wanted her. Out of all the women in the world, he’d wanted her. Wanted, hell, she thought, grinning now. Pursued, demanded. Taken. And while she could admit all of that was exciting, he’d gone one step further. He cherished.’ JD Robb, BETRAYAL IN DEATH

‘When he touched her, the sensation was like going over the tip-top of a roller coaster and speeding right toward the ground. It was scary, and awful, and grand all at once.’ Christina Dodd, JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.
‘His silence welcomed her as surely as another man’s greeting, for his eyes glowed and a smile flirted with the stern line of his mouth.’ Christina Dodd, JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.

‘Pride was how one behaved when others were watching. Honor was what a man did when there was no one else to see.’ Mary Jo Putney, THE RAKE

‘Her presence had been palpable since she first arrived and now he could feel only the ghost of her essence, echoes of her laugh.’ J.S. Scott, THE BILLIONAIRE’S OBSESSION

‘. . . real happiness and joy, those don’t tend to come without some risk. Those things are worth it.’
Lexi Blake, PERFECTLY PAIRED

Lexi Blake summed up my point.

Good things don’t come without risk. They also don’t come without effort. In order to be a better writer, we need to observe, first-hand and in detail. We need to read great authors and pay careful attention to the turn of a phrase.

If ‘due diligence’ is given . . . then some day, it will be our words highlighted on blogs, our phrases notated with Post-it notes, and our characters discussed in literary forums.

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