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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Overused Words

First:  Congratulations to Lyrical Pens friend C. Hope Clark on being selected as one of the featured writers in this year’s Killer Nashville Anthology:  Killer Nashville Noir: Cold-Blooded  Hope is being recognized for her mystery writing chops and is in some high-powered company that includes Jeffery Deaver and Anne Perry. Hope is also the driving force behind the award-winning fundsforwriters.com

Now for my post:  
I’ve touched on repeated words in manuscripts in an earlier post, but I’m still finding them in my WiP. Not as many, but they are there, so I’ll have another go at this to remind you (and me).

Our first drafts are usually full of the words that are top-of-mind, the ones with which we are most familiar. These familiar words allow writers to push through the draft rather than take time to search our minds or thesaurus for better ones.

It’s when writers get into the rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite mode that we see how our familiar words/phrases can’t live up to the task in our manuscripts. They may rise to the surface as trite or overused once we get into the edit cycles.

The solution is to use Word (or whatever software you’re using) to “Find” how many times you repeat a word. I search my entire manuscript for some word I find too often during a quick review, and then replace or delete (most often delete) the offending repetition. This great computer feature often leads to word choice or phrasing improvements that I didn’t see before. 
From my Facebook page.


I usually start with the things I know I use too often, but one creative writing instructor I know suggests starting with the verbs . . . the “to be” verbs (is, were), but says don’t worry about occasional usage. Next go to active verbs. I find a lot of look, smile, walk, glanced, shrug, frown.  How many are too many. I suggest that if they begin to annoy you when you see them in the text, there are too many.

Don’t forget to check for nouns. I can find dozens of coffee, latte, mouth, eyes, eyebrows, hand. I also check for then and while. Too many of these can mean poor transitions and a lot of complex sentences, which tend to slow down the reader.

Adverbs. The Guardian.com* published Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writers, and one of those is about adverbs. Mr. Leonard said:  4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".  (* http://bit.ly/1Xvbg5c )

Mr. Leonard is not alone in offering this advice. That bit about the writer “exposing himself” is the taboo. The writer is telling the readers what he/she wants them to know/sense about the character. Writers should never intrude into the reader’s story.  Suggestion: Find a strong verb that doesn’t need an “ly” helper

Adjectives can be major snags. Are your characters often gorgeous, handsome, tall, sexy, ripped; your rooms large, tiny, trashed? Adjectives are important and necessary, but it’s incumbent on writers to find their own unique voice to describe things.

One of my favorite examples is the opening line of “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. “A squat, gray building of only thirty-four stories.”  By comparison, the reader is able to visualize that all the buildings in Huxley’s new world are skyscraper tall except that particular one. The building is shorter and uglier than all the others in this new world. The line is almost a threat, if not a promise of strange things that will happen in that building.

I do find that the more often I search for/replace overused words, the fewer I find because I am learning to recognize my tendency for repetition. Perhaps you will have the same result.  What are your favorite overused words?  Have you searched for them?

That's it for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same. 

cj
PS;  If you've had a chance to read Choosing Carter, I'd love to hear what you thought about it. 
Choosing Carter (Pub: Crimson Romance)
   http://amzn.to/1TlMC1T (Amazon)
   http://bit.ly/1PrBsZj  (B&N)
Deadly Star (Pub: Crimson Romance)  


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the kudos! This is my first published short story, and I'm thrilled.

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