Words to Avoid & Why – pt.1
I know, you’re thinking, “Okay, if I’m writing children’s fiction I should avoid swearing.” Or, “If I want my work to reach a broader audience I should take out big words that only I understand because I’m a Rocket Scientist.”
No, sadly, that’s not what I mean.
Certain words in the English language are used as descriptors: adjectives or adverbs, if you will (we’ll get to the dreaded adverb another time). We use these words in everyday speech and when we write emails, tweets, blogs, and letters – but that doesn’t mean we should use them in our prose.
You are probably aware of the term “tightening up” when it comes to writing, and it literally means dropping those extra words we use in order to make the writing clear, focused, and sharp. ‘Tight’ writing makes for a better reading experience.
Where to begin?
Yes, there are several words and ideas that crop up and slow our writing down.
Let’s start at the beginning – literally.
Words that imply that action is “about to happen” seem (that’s another one of those words!) like a good idea while we are vomiting our ideas on the page during the first draft, but they need to be removed. At the very least, these words need to be drastically reduced.
Started to You get the idea.
Focusing on your 2nd Draft usually means looking at the ‘big picture.’ You make sure your characters are fully developed, there are no red herrings left unattended, and the main body of the story is complete (if it’s part of a series certain ideas will undoubtedly be left unresolved but not the main action of the current book).
By the 3rd Draft you should be getting nit-picky about your writing style. This is where you play with phrasing, delete chunks of back-story that are not necessary and tweak your vocabulary. This is where you focus on tightening your prose.
By now you’re thinking, “What’s so bad about the phrases listed above? I’ve seen them in books plenty of times.” Granted, these words do crop up, but first drafts tend to over-use them to the point of redundancy. These are terms that lead to passive writing (don’t worry, there are some good things about passive writing).
Get to the the action immediately. I don’t want to know that Harrison began to open the door... I want to be in the moment with him as Harrison reaches to open the door.
“Don’t they mean the same thing?”
Essentially, yes, but ‘reaches’ is an active verb where ‘began’ is a passive verb. You want your characters doing things not about to do things. It really does make a difference in the feel of your writing and whether or not your reader is apart of the story or just watching it happen.
Give it shot. You’ll be glad you did 🙂
Excellent advice, thank you. I’ll have to bookmark this, I have a lot of editing to do and I’ve been putting off getting started!
I’m glad it is helpful 🙂
Be sure to check in every Monday for more editing tips. Take note of which draft you should be focusing on for different pieces of advice.