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Sunday, July 24, 2022

Muggle words don't have any magic

 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 before.

  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".  (*  )   

  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 favorite examples:

… 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 words?   

  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 . . . 

  Whether stay-cation or vacation, the lowered prices on my ebooks are just in time for your summer reading pleasure—fast-paced, exciting thrillers with a smidgen of romance (ala Jane Bond). 

The ebooks of DEATH ON THE YAMPA and THE DAWGSTAR are now $2.99. 

P.S.  The Haunted Bookshop has signed paperback copies of my books in stock. TO ORDER my author-graphed books or any book of your choice on-line, contact The Haunted Bookshop here:   P.P.S. Pre-signed copies of THE BIG FANG are not available at The Haunted Bookshop

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