I'm in the process of editing one of my books, one of the final edits before I send it out to a third party editor for fresh eyes.  This is the edit when I make sure that the plot hangs together and the emotional beats make sense.  It's also the edit when I remove all the words I use too often out of laziness or habit or some combination of both.

This is my list of words:

1.  That.  This is a big one.  I cannot stop inserting "that" into sentences that don't require it.  (See the second sentence above.  Sometimes, "that" is necessary and important grammatically, and sometimes it's necessary for the rhythm of the sentence, and sometimes I'm doing it because my fingers insert it without me even thinking about it.  Most of the time, I can just delete it, but the trick is finding it in the first place.  (Thanks Find/Replace!)

2.  Some reason.  For some reason, I insert "some reason" into sentences when really what I need to do is either explain why the character is doing what she's doing or leave an explanation out altogether.  "Some reason" is a lame attempt at including character motivation and it needs to be deleted.

3.  Long while.  This is the temporal equivalent of "some reason," a placeholder for when I don't know or don't want to say how long something takes or how long it's been going on.  It also needs to go.

4. Deep breath.  This is not just me: a lot of writers have their characters "deep breath"ing all over the place.  I fortunately do not have the habit of replacing "deep breath" with "sigh"  but "deep breath" in and of itself needs to go in most cases.  Characters need to have physical business to do, but no one pays that much attention to their breathing, so this needs to be reduced down to occasional use.

5.  Remember.  "Remember" is fine when it needs to be in, but I tend to include it instead of relying on other clues to let the reader know that the character is thinking of the past. "Remember" should be used sparingly, like really hot peppers.

6.  Just.  Like "remember" this is another seasoning word, and like "that" this is another word I insert without even thinking about it, often in character dialogue.  Sometimes, I like the way it makes dialogue sound more realistic, but quite often, it's just a tic that doesn't need to be there.

7. Look/Seem; Turn; Push/Pull.  The rest of the words on this list are the ones that are fine, but also can be replaced by other more accurate words for particular actions.  I'm normally a fan of plain language, but sometimes plain language is just plain boring.  There are plenty of words in the world, and I should use more of them as long as they are accurate not only in denotation, but in tone and connotation.  In the course of revision, I've actually found paragraphs where I use one of these words four or five times, which is pretty ridiculous.

I don't worry about these words in my initial writing--if I did, I'd be completely paralyzed by all these prohibitions and never get anything finished--but it's always interesting to do this edit and see how a sentence or a paragraph or scene changes when I pay attention to them.


Newer Post Older Post Home