I recently wrote about removing the word “now” from my manuscript. It wasn’t the first such word I’d targeted, but since it proved to be a popular post, I decided to dedicate another to the subject.
Removing unnecessary words
In my final edit, I’ve targeted about a dozen common words and phrases for elimination or replacement. While it can feel like extra work, it improves the manuscript and sets me up for less work in the next. Here are two of the more fruitful tasks I took on.
- Unlike “now”, which is a strange choice for past-tense sentences, “then” is usually implied or simply unnecessary.
- It’s a word that often feels critical (Tildy ran up the stairs and then slammed her bedroom door), but it’s not (Tildy ran up the stairs and slammed her door).
- While reviewing 277 instances, I cut about 200 unnecessary words and was rewarded with tighter descriptions.
- Just gross and passive and weak. Again, it often feels necessary (Tildy stood on her toes and tried to see).
- Channel your inner Yoda here: Your characters do or they do not. There is no try (Tildy stood on her toes to see). If she can’t see, well, describe that!
- I cut the instances by half. However, the quantity is less relevant: I have 60+ stronger sentences. This is why you do the work.
I also targeted “passed”, “past”, and “know”, which fit into the category of word variety. I was a bit embarrassed to discover their overuse. Fortunately, replacing them wasn’t much work once I put a little extra thought into it.
C’mon, you’ve got a vocabulary – use it!
I’ve been a writer for 20 years and it’s always been an iterative process for me: Write the thoughts quickly, organize the story, and improve my word selection. Over time, my usage of some of these words has declined, which means less rework. When it comes to editing, I’d rather spend more time on shaping the story and less on swapping words.
We’re here to tell tales, after all. Good luck with your writing!
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© Michael Wallevand, August 2019
A 370-word post in which we realize that things in the past are not happening “now”.
Right after Christmas, I finished my mid-draft, which represents the complete book before I check for plot holes, inconsistencies, and other mechanical issues. It’s the first time I read the story straight through and it’s the first time I print out the manuscript to give it a thorough redlining.
I also use blue and green lines, and a yellow highlighter, so perhaps I need a new term.
It’s a time when you sit back and try to enjoy the story (I did!). This additional distance means you’re seeing things you couldn’t when you were nose deep in the writing (oh boy, did I!). I discovered my overuse of the word “now”, which is an odd writing choice when the verbs of the book are all past tense. If you’re not a grammar nerd, it’s the difference between “We walked now” and “We are walking now”.
After Control-F’ing the word (trying saying that in mixed company), I found far too many instances. I was using it as an unnecessary adverb, a way to transition into a new sentence, or as an awkward conjunction. Here’s a list of all the ways I used it. Continue reading
Here’s a delightful tale about my adventures in taxation last year. It’s about 450 words and a quick read. As with any post I write about typos, I’m sure there’s at least one.
I love Turbo Tax. Our taxes are relatively simple and don’t require the services of an expert. Some might say these are famous last words, and last tax season, they nearly were.
After a relatively brief and painless session at the computer, our taxes were done. If you’re familiar with Turbo Tax, it helpfully displays the amount you owe the Feds and State at the top of the screen. If you’re lucky, the number is green and you get a refund! In the spot for State, however, there was a red number. A BIG red number, one that was far larger than it should have been.
Comparing my results to the previous year, there was a $3,000 discrepancy. And it wasn’t in our favor.
I went back through every single page of my new returns. And again. And again. And again.
The numbers were right. As God as my witness, they were right!
This post is approximately 600 words, some of which are likely misspelled because that’s what happens when writers talk about typos.
Holy lexicon, do I hate misspellings. When it comes to my own writing, I’m a firm believer in self-flagellation. And I know there’s a special place in dictionary purgatory for self-proclaimed grammar perfectionists and those people who allow typos into published books.
Regardless of how much you’ve typed, or how fast you do it, typos are a way of life. When it comes to typing, I’m a cheetah with 30 years’ experience: bursts of speed followed by periods of rest and reflection. If I’m particularly inspired, I probably reach 120 wpm.
When I read ancient tales like Beowulf or the Odyssey, I like to consider the challenges faced by translators. It’s not simply replacing one word for another; in some cases, it’s also preserving the rhythm, often at the expense of what we’d consider ‘standard grammar’. Rhythm is a critical component of memorization, which was essential for stories that passed from mouth to ear, rather than by written page.
I kept that in mind when I wrote this poem in 2005. I put myself in the mindset of a translator struggling to capture the flow of some ancient chant. To me, it’s a combination of science and art, with the latter given preference. You’ll hear similar things in modern music, when the lyricist chooses rhythm over the rules taught in high school English.
Without further preface, my Celtic Christmas poem:
Come, my dear friends and do hearken
And sit by my fire for awhile.
For I am about to regale you
Of the Scourge of the Emerald Isle. Continue reading
This post is approximately 800 words and talks about grammar. I mean, a lot. Now’s your chance to flee.
“Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.”
Still here? Cool. Now we can nerd out about grammar without the eye-rolling judgment of boring people.
This will be the first in a series of recurring posts about English grammar. As a person who delights in the rules (and their exceptions), the eccentricities, and the history of the language, you’d be forgiven for assuming I’d be a crusty curmudgeon about the guidelines, norms, and other grammatical commandments. And often, you’d be right. But it also means I put a tremendous amount of brainpower into thinking about the rules.
And how I’m going to break them.