I have a few.
1. The use of “that” instead of “who.” Like, “I had a father that…..” or “She was a woman that….” When referring to people, “that” should be “who.” I see the use of “that” instead of “who” everywhere. In books, on TV, and in conversation. Sometimes it is all I can do to not correct a person who uses that.
2. Liberal use of “had.” Fiction is usually written in the past tense, so to indicate something that happened in the story’s past, one must use the past perfect tense, a verb preceded by “had.” Consequently, a book can be riddled with “hads.” Most are unnecessary, though. Once the past is established I think the “hads” ruin the flow of the prose.
3. Semicolons. One of the copy editors for my manuscripts adopted liberal use of semicolons–and not always correctly. My preference is to use semicolons very sparingly and only to connect two very closely related sentences. For me it is a rhythm thing. Using or not using a semicolon changes the rhythm of the prose.
4. Colons. If I dislike liberal use of semicolons in fiction, I loathe the use of colons. I know how to correctly use colons: To introduce or define something, to write time, to separate city and publisher in citations. I think they have a perfect place in business writing or other types of nonfiction, but I much prefer to use a dash instead.
How about you? Do you have any quill quibbles?