This week’s Very Short Writing Advice is, to take your writing to the next level, jettison this phrase:
make (or making) way.
As in: “Dr. Jacoby made his way to the salad bar.” As in: “Once dressed, she made her way to the party.” As pukingly in: “They made their way through the market bazaar, each bearded and clutching a Chihuahua.”
I don’t know why, but this is one of the ultimate writerly phrases. It’s one that writers just grab for so easily. But in prose, it’s much better for characters to saunter, sidle, step, lurch, stomp, slink, dash, or any of 105 more interesting verbs. This is no mere pet peeve, though. There are dramatic consequences. A person who “makes his way” somewhere seems to lack intent. There’s an aimlessness to making one’s way.
Think about when we say this in daily life. “Honey, I’m going out. I’m going to make my way to the store for some broccoli.”
“Can’t talk. I got a one o’clock interview. Gotta make my way.”
The only time we use this is when we really have no definite plans, we just have to get the hell away from someone. I picture a party-goer with a plate of carrots and dip. After a twenty-second exchange with someone he doesn’t particularly like, he edges into the throng, forcing a fake smile. “Okay, good to see you. I’m gonna make my way over to… Joan?”
That’s kind of when the phrase is apt. But it gets used in all kinds of other dramatic scenarios where it rings as highly inapt. A character making his way seems to have no motivation. That, or the narrator lacks perceptive or descriptive power.
Ultimately, “making way” should be thought of as a top-ranking cliché. Try dieting from this grammatical Ho-Ho and see if your character’s skin doesn’t clear up and they don’t take on a little extra pep in their step that has them dashing through plots and hurdling conflicts with clear intention towards the exciting climax.