Every Wednesday I’ll be sharing some hints and tips about how to improve your writing. These are basic things I have learned over the years, from writers websites, published authors and constructive feedback from friends, family and online pals.
There is an argument that fiction writing cannot be taught because it comes from talent alone, it is in your nature to be creative. Whilst there is some truth in that, even the most creative person needs to learn how to use their ability and make the best of their craft.
This week: Dumping the irrelevant junk!
This weeks topic is short and sweet. It’s about chopping out those junky words and tightening up your writing. Every word should have a purpose. If it doesn’t help move the story along then it should be deleted. I’m not perfect. Far from it, dear blog reader, and I often look at what I’ve just written and think “Oh man, that’s so bad, what the hell are those words doing there? Oh wait, maybe I was writing with my eyes closed again!”
We write how we think.
I’ve read a fair bit about finding your “authors voice” and how best-selling authors have a unique style their fans will recognise. Give me a Stephen King book that has no reference to SK himself and I’ll be able to tell you who wrote it. Why? Because his style, voice, word play etc is unmistakable. The same goes for so many authors. Writers take time to perfect their craft and find their unique voice.
That doesn’t mean amateur writers don’t have that same quality. I read plenty of blogs by amazing writers and I could point out which chunk of writing belongs to what blog and writer without a fancy logo or banner across the top of the web page.
But I think some of what separates the amateur from the seasoned pro is the use of words, specifically redundant words. Ones that are simply unnecessary. Ones that are just fillers in the sentence. Like those two sentences you’ve just read. I used the word “just” twice when I didn’t need to. I used the word “simply” when I didn’t need to. In fact I should have stopped after writing “…specifically redundant words” but I laboured the point to show that I, like you, write how I think. Or more specifically how I talk.
Most of us are comfortable using a multitude of different filler words when we speak because we’re social animals, often quite lazy too when it comes to talking. We get our point across using the easiest and most common words. However, this makes for sloppy writing.
5 Words To Dump.
Here’s a quick run down of words I write without fail and then dump on editing because they’re just pointless.
Oh. Crap. Did you spot that?
Let’s start again.
Here’s a list of words I write without fail then dump on editing because they’re pointless.
# 1 – Seemed
I can’t stand this word yet I use it all the time.
- Kyle seemed to be upset.
- It seemed like it was going to rain.
- Some days it seemed as if my life was going nowhere.
Was Kyle upset or not? Was it going to rain or not? Is my life going anywhere or not? There are times when “seemed” is okay to use but the more I look at it the more I dislike this word. Each of those examples can be better written to give more weight and importance to the statement.
- Kyle’s lip trembled and he avoided eye contact.
- The sky was blanket of thick grey clouds.
- On my bad days I thought my life was never going to improve.
Okay, there are a few more words but the statements feel better on the eyes. They read better too. They’re descriptive and move the story forward.
# 2 – Just
One of my all time pet hates.
- I just thought it would be better that way.
- If you could just drop me an email…
- I was just reading the news paper.
Gross. I hate them. Let’s clean it up.
- I thought it would be better that way.
- If you could drop me an email…
- I was reading the news paper.
Not a huge change but it shows that “just” is a poor filler word to say the least. If you can, try to count how many times you use that word in a day. At work today I was mulling over what topic to write about for this weeks WTW. I decided to keep track of how often I use redundant words when I talk. I was surprised. In the case of “just” I lost count at around 30.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use “just” but make sure it really is the right word, like in speech for example.
# 3 – Quite
Similar to “just” and equally annoying.
- I was quite angry.
- It’s quite a nice day.
- Obviously you don’t quite understand.
Argh. So, so bad.
- I was angry. OR I was becoming angry. OR I was getting angry.
- It’s a nice day.
- Obviously you don’t get it. OR You’re not understanding. OR That’s not entirely right.
There are times when you can use “quite” to give the impression of time, such as:
- “The pizza isn’t quite ready yet.”
This means it isn’t cooked but it will be. However if you wrote:
- “The pizza isn’t ready.”
This could border on an angry or frustrated statement.
# 4 – That
Not immediately obvious as a filler word but check these out.
- Janey noticed that her shoes had mud on them.
- It was time that the pizza came out of the oven.
- I thought that it would be better that way.
As you can see, hopefully, the word “that” sticks out like a sore thumb.
- Janey noticed her shoes were muddy.
- It was time the pizza came out of the oven.
- I thought it would be better my way.
Again it’s okay to use “that” where it’s important, such as part of speech.
- “I need that pizza because it’s the last one I have.”
- “No. I need that one. Not this one.”
Understandably those bits of speech would look weird without a “that” in them.
#5 – Began.
Sadly I used this a lot and sigh every time I see it.
- I began walking down the street.
- It began to rain.
- I began to speak.
It’s a tragedy. I think I’m an okay writer. I enjoy it. It’s a good hobby and keeps me off the streets. But I despair when that word rolls across the screen.
- I walked down the street.
- It rained. OR I was drenched when the heavens opened. OR The rain soaked me in seconds.
- I opened my mouth but thought better of it and kept my thoughts to myself.
Using “began” gives the impression something is coming. But since we live in a linear time scale there is always something coming, so why waste your readers time? Your character either did something or didn’t. Using “began” is a lazy word. There are times when “began” is okay to use, for example:
- Old Man Hobbs looked at the children. “It all began a long time ago…”
We’ll finish with words bunched together for no reason other than habit.
- PIN number – This really grinds my gears. The N means number!
- Free Gift – Oh, so some gifts I have to pay for?
- Armed Gunman – As opposed to the Unarmed Gunman?
- Circle around – Because some circles are straight?
- In spite of the fact – No! Use the word “although” or “despite” or “whereas.”
- End result – Not to be confused with the middle result.
- New innovations – Unlike old innovations.
- Revert back – Type “revert” into a thesaurus and see if “back” isn’t there.
- 12 midnight – Midnight will do. The reader WILL understand.
- Each individual – Teaches your reader that individuals are the same.
- Sudden crisis – Very different from the planned crisis.
- Future plans – Often confused with plans for the past.
- Added bonus – A bonus is an additional thingy anyway!
- Major breakthrough – For when that breakthrough isn’t significant enough.
That’s all folks!
Like I said, it’s a short post this week. Remember to keep your stuff tight. Write like a crazy person, get that stuff down while it’s fresh in your head. But keep an eye out for those bits of fluff then kill them dead. Oh man. Did I just say that?