Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wimpy Words

Sometimes beginning writers are apologetic without realizing it. It shows in word choices. At some point in the process of transforming an ms to a publishable book, I go through metnodically and evaluate the strength of each sentences, word by word.

I'm looking at the following:
Clarity - does it say what the writer meant?
Continuity - the connected whole (without jumping around in time or big gaps that are distracting).
Wimpy words - words that drain the energy or strength from the sentence.

Most people know (or have heard of) the eight parts of speech. I often mention that there are 48 prepositions because my youngest child counted then and it stuck in my mind. As a side bar, I don't think it is necessary to memorize them as was my son's school assignment, but it is worth having a sense of what they are so you know them when you see them.

What I think we do too little of is diagram sentences. That's where clarity gets sorted. A missing punctuation (as exampled by the book title, Eats, Shoots & Leaves) or a misplaced modifier can have humerous and possibly disasterous results. That is where diagraming a troubling sentence can help sort the problem.

Wimpy words are the easiest to fix. Simply delete them. But what is a wimpy word (a term I coined, I think)?

But what is a wimpy word? We use them in everyday conversations and in our head as we write. They are words that weaken the dynamics of the story.

It was almost 5:00. Since this is fiction, it doesn't have to be exact. Remove almost and read it again. Stronger? The added bonus in removing almost is it picks up the pace. Pacing is important in keeping the reader from disengaging with the story. (More on that some other time.)

As everything else in First Draft, this is strictly my opinion, and I'll have to add to the list as time goes on because I only think of them as I'm reading an ms (hopefully they aren't in professionally published books).

Always, almost, any, often, sometimes, about, and (to connect thoughts when it should be two sentences rather than one), even, nearly, also, each, both, and others I haven't thought of at the moment. A few of these words goes a long ways.

As you read through line by line, with a magnafying glass in your mind, notice these, then run a search for them. Keep only the essential ones and delete the rest. Less is more. By keeping the ones that really matter in the sentence, they are more powerful. The nonessential ones weaken the sentence.

My personal trigger is and then. It slows down the pace horibally to use both, pick one. I know I'm crossing the line on grammar rules, but it bugs me to have both words together.

And if you get bored with that, run a search for places you have two blank spaces after a period/full stop. Replace them with one blank space.

1 comment:

  1. For writers these parts of your blog are the most important part and the very reason why it should not cease to exist.
    As Bob Dylan wrote, 'Keep on, keeping on.'