Friday, February 15, 2013

Overused Words

I suppose we all have our weaknesses. I have a few, but I'm learning to spot them. At the moment I'm looking for 'that' and 'had'. I've been looking so hard lately, when I see it in the published books I'm reading, they kind of jump out and slap me. It's a bit of a bummer. Sometimes I hate the editor in me.

You know when you write a sentence that has 'that' around every corner, that there is something kinda overdone. This was one of my worst sentences, but you get the idea. Word has this really nifty feature that will allow you to find all these overused words in one fell swoop. Just click on the finder and mark the little box that says 'find all'. Then you can go to your document and hit your favorite highlight color. I happened to pick red for my current document, mostly because red is something of a theme, not that there is anything more than black and white, you understand. I also used 'Claw' as the font for the chapter titles. It's a really cool font where all of the letters are made out of curved claws. Look it up if you've never seen it; it's kinda cool. This kind of thing makes me wonder what kind of cover I will end up with for this book. But I digress.

Here's a paragraph:
It took a little prodding and cajoling, but eventually they got an abridged story that explained the reason behind his desperate struggles. They also got a promise that his knife would never be over by the door again, but then, that apparently, was another lesson he was supposed to learn, since they all laughed uproariously when he said it.
Here, 'that' is used three times. A lot of times 'that' can be simply left out. Sometimes a little rewording is required.

Same paragraph, fixed:
It took some prodding and cajoling, but eventually they were able to entice an abridged story out of him explaining the reason behind his desperate struggles. He also promised them that his knife would never be over by the door again, but then, apparently keeping his knife close was another lesson he was supposed to learn, since they all laughed uproariously when he said it.
Getting rid of two out of three 'that' is pretty good, I think. I also got rid of a couple other little yuckies, 'got' and 'a little'. There's always something better to replace 'got', and 'a little' is one of those indefinites you should avoid anyway.

'Had' is another word I tend to use too much of. For the most part, unless it's being used to indicate a possession, it can usually be cleared away in much the same way.

Here's a paragraph:
Canis silently dished her up a bowl of the gruel Leo had laced with dried meat, then dished himself up one as well. They ate in silence. When the gruel had cooled, they dished out a portion for each of the wolves too. The pot was polished out by several of the different wolves; each of them hoping there might be a crumb another had missed. Using the last of the tea to wash out the pot, Canis and the others began to prepare for the night. Peace wasn't to be had just yet, as the woman couldn't hold her bladder any longer.
So many 'had' puts this paragraph dangerously close to past tense, and really only one of them indicates possession.

Same paragraph, fixed:
Canis silently dished her up a bowl of the meat-laced gruel, and then dished one up for himself. They ate in silence. When the gruel was cool enough, they dished out a portion for each of the wolves too. The pot was polished out by several of the different wolves; each of them hoping to find a crumb or flavor missed by another. Using the last of the tea to wash out the pot, Canis and the others began to prepare for the night. Peace wasn't to be had just yet, as the woman couldn't hold her bladder any longer.
My writing tends to be kind of prosaic, so in a final draft that last 'had' might also go. We'll see, but it sounds much better than before - much more 'now', if you will.

Anyway, these are the two words I'm currently combing out of my document. As my first paragraph showed me, I need to look for a couple more. As I said before, I have 'that' highlighted in red. I have 'had' highlighted in a blue-green color. My goal is to have very few of these words marked. Since I tend to slip into reflection, 'had' will probably be the hardest word to eliminate, but if I can get the rest, I'll be happy.

If you're curious at all, my website has a writing tab where I've accumulated some writing tips I find very helpful. My writing improved greatly once they were pointed out. It was kinda like not realizing how dirty the window was until it was opened.

So, my current editing project is to comb out the fleas called 'that', 'had', 'got', and 'a little'. I have my flea comb already hard at work. What do you look for in your edits?



5 comments:

William Kendall said...

I have a tendency to overuse "now".

Carol Wills said...

Thanks for a great tip on highlighting the overused words Anna. I will be sure to use it on my overuse of so & then. x

Anna L. Walls said...

Ah yes, three more commonly overused words. And from Facebook, 'suddenly', 'realized', and 'just'. I overuse them all, so I am taking notes, thanks everyone. Carol, be careful with 'then', it's easily confused with 'than'.

Jacqui said...

I love how you go through and fix everything.

My favorite overused word lately is 'actually', code for 'you're wrong and here's the right answer'.

Mari Collier said...

The word got got to me in the first example. It's really harsh. I could rephrase my first sentence, but it was too tempting.