A student has sent me a rewrite in the mail, and I have re-critiqued it. Despite its merits (which were actually many), it contained one of my pet peeves of English prose, which got me thinking about the rest of them. Here they are:
"... he thought to himself." Unless you are a telepath, there is no other possibility.
"An expression of .... on his face." Where else would an expression be? Omit "on his face."
".... asked James." If there are more than two people in the scene, this is fine. Otherwise, I probably know it's James's turn to talk, and if his speech ends with a question mark, I already know he's asking something.
"Jumping up, he answered the door." Unless your guy is an amazing acrobat, he's not jumping up at the same time he's answering the door. They're sequential actions. Write "He jumped up and answered the door" or "He jumped to answer the door."
"Distraught, I ran my hand through my short red curls." This is first person. Not even a narcissist thinks of his short red curls while distraught; this is a blatant attempt to shoe-horn in description where it does not belong. Even in close third person, this is a point-of-view shift, from inside to outside, that jars. In fact, the whole sentence is bad. Show me he's distraught.
"He was born in Paris, France." This only works in the dialogue or thoughts of a character you wish us to perceive as either dim or pedantic. In narrative, don't tell readers that Paris is in France -- it's insulting that you assume they don't know that already. If you're writing about Paris, Texas, however, that's a different matter.
"She was five-foot-seven, one hundred thirty pounds, with long brown hair and blue eyes." Again, unless you're trying to convey something about the character making this observation -- that he is or was a cop, that he is incapable of seeing other than prosaically -- this description is not only boring but irrelevant. Tell me something about her with more juicy relevance to her character: she's five-foot-seven and weighs eighty-eight pounds, or her long hair is pink with green stripes, or one of those blue eyes is black from having been slugged hard.
"If I was an acrobat..." If I were an acrobat. The subjunctive tense is not yet obsolete.
And please forgive the crankiness of this post.