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
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.