Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wednesday Word: On Wasted Words

So, you're getting ready to submit your manuscript. You've smoothed out all the inconsistencies in the plot, layered in emotion and backstory where appropriate, etc. What else can you do to make your story stand head and shoulders above the rest?

Don't waste words!

Seems obvious, I'm sure, but from my experience in editing both other people's mansucripts and my own, it's harder than it sounds. I'm not talking here about those pesky -ly words that seem to slip in and expand the word count without adding much to the meaning. You already got those, I'm sure!

No, I'm talking mostly about these four verbs:


Now, of course I'm not suggesting you never use these words in your writing. But in your final round of polishing, I do recommend searching for them in your manuscript and making sure each and every one is necessary. That there isn't another way you could construct the sentence that would be snappier and more direct.

Here is an example of what I mean (and no, they're not taken from any of my manuscripts or any that I've read--I made 'em all up just for the purpose of this post).

Mary dropped into the chair with a sigh of resignation. She watched John pace the floor, his brow furrowed in thought.

This isn't horrendous, but since we're Mary's point of view, anything reported in the narrative is something she's watching (or seeing or noticing or feeling...). The fact that she's watching John is a given, so why not just report what she's watching? Not only does the phrase "she watched" impart no useful information to the reader, it actually distances the reader from the scene by placing the emphasis on Mary's act of watching rather than on what John is doing.

The same logic applies to the verbs "see," "notice," and "feel." Though they're useful and even essential at times, it's important to evaluate whether their use is adding to the reader's understanding and immersion in the scene or detracting from it.

No writer is immune from using these words when they're not needed. Knowing that, I'm taking extra care to comb through my manuscripts for offenders and deleting them with ruthless efficiency.

YOUR TURN: What word or words do you realize you tend to "waste?" Do you notice wasted words in other people's writing (including my post above, lol)? Remember, sharing is caring!


Tessa Dare said...

Very timely post for me, Jackie. I've been cutting a lot of these things as I get ready to turn in SIREN to my editor. Another I over use is, "s/he thought" or "asked her/himself" As in, "'Whatever shall I do?' she wondered."

Ericka Scott said...

That....I have to go through and hack all of the 'that's out.

Felt is a big one for me...also characters often do a lot of wondering...