A wonderful guest post today from B. K. Fowler, author of the new historical novel Ken's War. She has some great insight about favorite words that authors tend to overuse.
From B. K. Fowler:
Every writer has pet words. Tabitha King's pets in The Trap are hooked and hauled, as in "She hooked off her socks," and "He hauled his boots on." Strong verbs used in unconventional ways are refreshing until they’re overworked and become annoying to readers.
Pronouns, one breed of pets, are especially vague. "I hate and mistrust pronouns, every one of them as slippery as a fly-by-night personal-injury lawyer," writes Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And in The Book Alan Watts refers to the pronoun it is a spook, as in "It's raining outside." What exactly is it?
King, Watts and other successful authors use it when it's unavoidable or natural sounding. Character dialogue, for example, sounds natural with a sprinkling of the neuter, singular pronoun.
Overusing it causes confusion, as this passage from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland demonstrates.
"…The patriotic archbishop of Canterbury found it advisable — "
"Found what?" said the Duck.
"Found it," the Mouse replied rather crossly: "of course you know what 'it' means."
"I know what 'it' means well enough, when I find a thing," said the duck: "it's generally a frog, or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find?"
If it is one of your pet pronouns, replace it with the true subject of the sentence or phrase. The sentence, “It was the boss who inspected the books,” can be revised as “The boss inspected the books.” (When it disappeared so did other pets--was, who.)
Other easily housebroken pets include the rest of the pronoun menagerie: all, some, this, those, they, what, anything, everyone. Other overused words include just, only, really and very.
When editing your manuscript, pick a word you used too frequently. Look the word up in a thesaurus for suitable synonyms. Or maybe the word can be deleted. I used just too often, as in “His dad would just have to adapt to Japanese food.” I can replace just. “His dad would simply have to adapt to Japanese food.” Or I can delete just. “His dad would have to adapt to Japanese food.”
Housebreak words that piddle on your story. Remove them. Replace them. Or rewrite without them, when possible.
Ken’s War by B.K. Fowler: Army brat Ken finds himself in Japan when his hot-headed dad is deployed to a remote post there. Culture clash is one of the many sucker punches that knocks Ken’s world upside down in this coming-of-age novel for teens and young adults.
“Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.
Ken's War: When culture shock & teen rebellion collide. http://www.fireandiceya.com/authors/bkfowler/kenswar.html
Contact the author of Ken’s War & go behind the scenes at https://www.facebook.com/kenswar
Get writers tips and resources at http://writershelper.wordpress.com
So, I've finished going through my new novel and marking all the mistakes and things I want to change. What I discovered above all is that I like to use the word "actually". I use it mostly when people are talking in my book, which makes a little sense. I say "actually" a lot when I talk, and I'm trying to make my teenagers sound realistic. However, it's a little ridiculous after a while. I went through the book and deleted almost all of them.
When my editor helped me through Cry of the Sea, the words she kept circling for me were "just" and "really" and made me get rid of them. I found that I still had those words a lot in this new ms as well Once again I cut them.
I'm not sure why I like using qualifiers, but now that I'm aware of them, I see how often they are used in books with little editing (ie: self-published) verses ones that have been edited well. They stand out as if they are in bold print to me now.
I recommend that upon finished a draft, use your Find button and put in words like "just", "really", "actually", "seriously" and "very". See how many times they are showing up in your text. Delete them and see if your sentences still work. I can't say that I won't continue to put these useless words in my early drafts in the future. Habits are hard to break. I do hope to never submit a draft to an editor or agent with a manuscript filled with them, though.
What are your most commonly use pointless words?
D. G. Driver
Author D. G. Driver's
Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.