I’m back! No, I’m not Arnold. It’s me, Ollie, James’ Old English Sheepdog. The last time we met I told you about how James had been editing before we went for our walk. Well, he’s still editing. It seems that he does more editing than writing. (What is that? Is editing writing? Okay, so can I have a treat for that? Oh, goodie. I love treats.) James loves editing. It’s how he makes his writing better. It’s not that it’s bad when he writes it the first time. (What? No treat? But….) James says all writing is — he used a word I don’t think I should — “bad” until edited.
Like I was saying, James edits quite often. When we were out walking, he asked me if I would be so kind as to give you some pointers about what it is he looks for in order to correct (his word, not mine) his work. I agreed because he gave me treat after treat — so many I ran and jumped and somersaulted all over our fields and woods, sidestepping any briars or spikes or holes. I didn’t want to come back and write this, I was getting so many treats. However, James said we had to in order to help other writers. I like helping other writers. (Oh, yes! A treat for me.)
Without further ado (a new word for me – James said it means fuss, difficulty or trouble) here are a dozen words to watch for when editing:
- A lot: What is the relative value of “a lot”? To one person it could be more than three, another person could see it as at least a hundred. In this sentence, “They were having a lot of fun,” the two words are meaningless to your reader. They were either having fun, which is simply telling us, or you could show us how much fun they were having by describing the fun so the reader can visualize them having fun.
- As: This is one of those words that has two meanings. It either means two things are happening at the same time, or it is used in place of “because.” If it is used to describe two things happening at the same time, make sure they are possible, otherwise the reader will stumble over your story and become confused. Think about whether the word should replace “because,” and if so, then by all means use it.
- Feel/felt: Typically these words are used in place of “believe” or “assume.” It can be used when something is being touched, and therefore felt. These words are typically used incorrectly when they describe an emotion. Here, again, the writer is telling and not showing. Show your readers how the character feels/felt, and you will have a strong connection to your audience.
- Just: This is one of James’ favorite words when writing first drafts. (All of these words are, but this one holds a special place in James’ heart.) The use of “just” doesn’t add anything substantive in most applications. “Just do it” is considered a good moniker for Nike. It works for them. But a stronger expression is simply, “Do it!” It has the same meaning, yet is simpler and more direct. There are times, when using dialogue, where “just” is commonly used, since that is how we typically speak. If going for realism in your dialogue, use it.
- Like: When used as a metaphor, properly, it can add value to your story. However, be careful not to use to many metaphors, or your reader will tire of your excellent creativity. When not to use this word? Too often comparisons are not valid or confusing. Providing your reader with a straightforward description with an appropriate verb will make your story a better read.
- Pretty: A personal favorite of James’ is “pretty.” He used it often when growing up, and finds he still does, when using such phrases as “she’s pretty cute,” “it was pretty exciting.” You get the gist. It’s meaningless in these examples, and another word choice or excluding it would be appropriate: “she’s cute,” “the cyclone ride at the fair was hair-raisingly exciting.”
- Really: A word that has become common in our everyday speech, “really” is used in dialogue as a question. Depending upon multiple factors, it may be appropriate in dialogue within your story. However, when used (often with “great”) to emphasize something, “she had really great legs,” it is useless. Using a descriptive word or two, “she had long, muscular legs,” is more visually pleasing to your readers.
- Sort of: It always surprises James when he finds he has used this phrase, or “kind of,” since something either is or isn’t. “He was sort of tall,” should be either, “he was six feet, four inches tall,” or “he was only five feet, four inches tall, yet exhibited stature in his stance and commanding voice.” It will confuse your reader if you leave them in the story without explaining what you mean. A tighter story will leave them out altogether.
- Think: When one of your characters has an opinion, state it as fact. “I think you should chew your food with your mouth closed,” is weak. Whereas, “You should chew your food with your mouth closed,” is more direct. “Chew with your mouth closed,” is even tighter. It shows a stronger character when being direct. If the character is weak, then by all means let them “think” about the alternatives and be slow to act.
- Used to: “Martha used to speak with a lisp when she was younger,” might be acceptable, but “Martha spoke with a lisp when she was younger,” uses a verb tense that allows the writer to be crisp in the description. When you can change “used to” to a past tense verb, do so. It will make your readers happy.
- Went: During first drafts, “went” is such a swift word to use since it will allow the writer to speed through ideas without pausing to break momentum. During editing, “went” should be replaced by descriptive words relative to the kind of movement: slow (crawled), regular (walked) or fast (hastened). These are only three examples of the myriad word choices to replace “went.” It will allow your reader to visualize your character’s movements, and it will make your story exciting.
- You: You may notice that we’ve used this pronound when speaking directly to “you,” the reader. In this case it is acceptable. However, when you tell your story, unless it is written in the second person, do not use the word. It should also be born in mind that a story written in the second person rarely works. “You walked through the massive wooden door with carved devils and saw you standing there.” The first use is obviously the incorrect one. It is either “I” or another pronoun or name.
REMEMBER: (it’s okay to use them during your first draft as you don’t want your inner editor slowing your creative juices down) – it’s during the editing phase where you should check to determine whether or not you want to keep these words depending on your audience, how formal the story is, your particular writing style/voice and where appropriate. Checking for these words and their use will help you make your writing stronger by being precise and professional. As always, it’s up to you, the final editor, to make the decision.
James and I would like to know if you’ve come across any other words of which writers should be leery. If you have, what are they? We’d love to know about them. Please consider sharing them in the comments.
I always like hearing from you, so please feel free to leave a comment on this blog post about this or anything at all.
Until next week,
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)