cj Sez: Something to consider for readers and writers . . .
|A confiscated Facebook post|
I’ve touched on repeated
words in manuscripts in earlier posts, but I still find them in my WiP. Not as
many, but they’re there (alongside those typo gremlins), so I’ll have another
go at this.
First drafts are
usually full of the words that are top-of-mind, the ones with which we are most
familiar. The words we use every day. These familiar words allow us writers to
push through the draft rather than take time to search our minds or a thesaurus
for better ones.
It’s when writers
get into the rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite editing that we see how our familiar
words/phrases simply can’t live up to the task of enriching our manuscripts.
They rise to the surface as trite or overused.
One solution is to
use a writing software program to “Find” how many times a word is repeated. 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 repetitions. This software
feature often leads to word choice or phrasing improvements that I didn’t see
I usually start my
search with the words 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 also says don’t worry about occasional usage. Next go to active
verbs. I find a lot of look, smile, walk, glance, shrug, frown, et al. How many are too many? If they begin to annoy
me when I see them in the text, there are too many.
I can’t forget to
check for nouns. I 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.
Elmore Leonard’s ten
rules* for writers have been published many times. Number 4 of his list is
about adverbs: “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". (* https://bit.ly/3OK6UGd )
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 s/he wants them to think or
sense about the character. Some adverbs are necessary, of course, but writers
should be mindful about intruding into the reader’s version of the story.
Instead of a bunch of adverbs, find strong verbs that don’t need an “ly” helper.
Adjectives can be
major snags also. Characters are often gorgeous, handsome, tall, sexy, ripped; and
rooms are large, tiny, or trashed. Not a lot of magic there. Instead of those
muggle words, try to describe something/someone in a way that invites readers
into the story, respects their intelligence, and lets them use their
imagination. (That’s called deep point of view.)
Here are two of my
… 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.
… “The evening sky was
streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to
fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles
of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate
of Angola penitentiary.”
—James Lee Burke,
THE NEON RAIN
The more often I
search for/replace overused words, the fewer I find because I’ve learned to
recognize my tendency for repetition. Perhaps you will have the same
result. What are your favorite overused
By the by, as I
mentioned earlier, a computer software search is one way to clean up repetitious
words, but after that’s done, I also like to read the pages out loud. Try a few
pages. See if plot holes, rough spots, stilted dialogue, and repeated phrases
don’t just jump off the page at you.
I hope you enjoyed
Kaye George’s “Smashing Stereotypes” post last Wednesday as much as I did. Definitely
a learning moment for me.
That’s it for
today’s post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Because
I still have a bit of bronchial cough residual from last December, I’ve started
wearing a mask again when out in crowded spaces. Lifting prayers for your
health and safety.
I found the meme about $2.99 on Facebook and couldn't resist using it . . .
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