Thursday, December 12, 2013

Words, Words, Words

This post first ran on Monday, July 13, 2009

You know what you need to write a good story?

Yes, dialogue, characters, plot, conflict, etc. are important components, but without the WORDS to develop these things, you just have a really good idea.

I want to touch on a few things that can hinder your words from being appreciated by your reader.


OVERWRITING

Overwriting is a redundancy issue. We see this in newspaper articles all the time. A writer will quote a source, and then he/she will paraphrase the quote. The paraphrase is repetitive, redundant.

In stories, we can see this when an action occurs and then the characters talk about what just happened instead of moving the story forward. We see this when a writer uses dialogue to “tell” instead of to “reveal” – especially when what he/she is telling has already been shown.

When we overwrite, we slow the reading for the readers because they want to know what happens NEXT – not what already happened.

Outlining can help to combat some overwriting issues. If you have an outline, you can look from scene to scene, from chapter to chapter to see if each component is moving your story forward.

If you don’t outline, it’s important to combat this in the revision/editing stages. Because you will, more than likely, have to write a synopsis for your story, go through each chapter and write a few paragraphs about what occurs. As you write on each chapter, ask yourself, “Is the story moving forward?” “Have I repeated something from a past scene or chapter?” “Does it slow the read?” Questioning as you revise will help you find the slow parts and see if they are redundant or overwritten.

WORDINESS

Wordiness is not the same as overwriting; overwriting is redundancy. Wordiness occurs when we don’t practice “word economy.” It occurs when we use a slew of words for what can be stated in one or two words.

It’s when we use phrases like “final completion” when we could easily write “completion.”

It’s when we use phrases like “basic essentials” when we could easily write “essentials.”

It’s when we use phrases like “due to the fact that” when we could easily write “because.”

It’s when we use “that” like it’s our long-lost friend.

It’s when we use “uh,” “ahem,” “um,” and “okay” as filler instead of getting to the point.

Leave a work after you’ve written it. Everyone needs a fresh pair of eyes, and if you jump into revision/editing stages before taking a breather, you’ll be less likely to catch glaring wordiness errors.

In the revision/editing stages (and it’s smart to bring somebody along – like an editor-as you go through these stages), it’s a good idea to mark passages in your writing that were difficult for you to write. If you battled through writer’s block, if a scene or passage – particularly the middles of books – was slower to write than others, mark those places to return to; more than likely, there are some wordiness issues there.

Study the wordiness patterns that are typical in your writing. Having a second (or third) set of eyes is crucial here because an editor can talk to you about these patterns, and you can keep them in mind for future projects.

Here are some words and phrases that are typically added to a “wordiness” list.

kind of — sort of — type of — really — basically — for all intents and purposes — definitely — actually — generally — individual — specific — particular


COMMONLY CONFUSED WORDS

The following are typical words I see in clients’ manuscripts that are incorrectly used:

than, then — to, too, two — bad, badly — hear, here — sit, set — raise, rise — lay, lie — lose, loose — who’s, whose — you’re, your

Even the greatest of writers will have issues with confusing words; the goal is to figure out which words confuse you and keep them close by so you can fix them in your work.

I still have problems with lay/lie, and often will find another way to say something instead of use them!

We should not fear words; if we fear them, how can we manipulate them within our stories?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

19 comments :

  1. Great post - full of wisdomosity! Thank you.

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  2. Great post Shon. Afraid I'm guilty of almost every crime listed.

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  3. Great post!

    I used to use 'that' a lot, but since someone pointed out how frequently it's there, I try to avoid it at all costs.

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  4. Great points here. I'm revising now and these are helpful reminders!

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  5. Awesome post, as always. I am oh-so-very guilty of the "that" epidemic, but I don't worry about it until rewrites.

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  6. Great post! I hadn't thought overwriting and wordiness were two different problems.

    As far as use of wrong words go, I think a lot of us know better but when we write our word choice editor is offline! I constantly type it's for the posessive as well as other common errors of word choice, and I definitely do know better.

    As far as certain grammar issues like lay/lie, I have posted on my blog about them so I can go and review when needed, which is every time I use them.

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  7. Great reminders, Shon. "That" is one I see overused a lot. Sometimes it's needed. More often, it's not and can be cut.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  8. Excellent points...a great reminder to get on with the story!

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  9. Excellent post, Shon. If we're aware of our tendency to overexplain and use too many words, a thorough sentence-by-sentence read (especially out loud), will help.

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  10. "That" word is a good one to seek out with your Find feature in MS Word. You would be amazed at how often it's used in everyday writing.

    Good, Shon.

    Dani

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  11. Thanks for the comments! "That" is my personal little demon, but not as much as "lay/lie." EVERY time I use either, I have to go read up on them before feeling comfortable enough to move on to the next sentence, LOL

    But the thing I always tell myself is write first and be a stickler second. If I worried about every one of these (and others) while writing every word, I'd never get a story written.

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  12. Great post, Shon. Lots of good information here.

    Had to laugh about the overuse of "that". I was guilty of that for a long time and finally learned how to avoid it. Then an editor who was editing one of my books kept wanting to put a bunch of them back.

    Which just shows, I think, that certain editors have certain pet peeves and "that" certainly wasn't hers. :-)

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  13. I'd like to link to this extremely useful post at Flash Fiction Chronicles if you don't mind?

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  14. You can definitely use it over there, :-)

    Post the link for Flash Fiction Chronicles - would love to check it out!

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  15. At this point, in my current case of writer's block, I'd be happy with the 'good idea'.

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    1. Christopher, I so understand that. I have a few story ideas in my head, but I have yet to put anything onto the page!

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  16. I'm happy to revisit this 2009 post because it's so relevant to where I am with current editing projects. Overwriting, wordiness, word confusion—they abound in so many of the manuscripts I receive. This article is a definite keeper, a reminder not to despair; writers do learn to recognize these shortcomings and self-edit them out in many cases before sending me their next manuscripts — especially after we discuss (sometimes repeatedly) how to avoid them in the future. :-)

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    1. Yay! Glad there is still some relevant info/reminders here for you, Linda! You know what's funny... when I picked this as a piece to repost, I did not realize it was mine. I was just rereading it and thinking, "I'm glad I found this article because I need to keep these things in mine." Just now did I realize I wrote it. LOL

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  17. I'm happy to revisit this 2009 post because it's so relevant to where I am with current editing projects. Overwriting, wordiness, word confusion—they abound in so many of the manuscripts I receive. This article is a definite keeper, a reminder not to despair; writers do learn to recognize these shortcomings and self-edit them out in many cases before sending me their next manuscripts — especially after we discuss (sometimes repeatedly) how to avoid them in the future. :-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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