Thursday, November 18, 2010

Slashing the Weak Words

I’m working on editing the short story I’ve written as a prequel to The Futhark Chronicles. The main characters are secondary but important story movers in the second, Beyond the Gate, and the third book, Beneath the Mountain, in this epic fantasy series.

Since this story will be used only as promotion the only person doing the editing will be me. No professional book fixer will give me advice. All the editors I’ve worked with have helped me identify weak words. Now I’ll have to try and catch them all myself.
I’ve tried to break my habit of using certain pet works. We all have them but successful writers learn to overcome the temptation to use them. How many times can I write, ‘just, even, surely.’ Those are some of my favorite offenders.
How about triple words. Have you written or read one like this. ‘He hoped to try to begin to heal.” There has to a better way to say that one.
How about made up words? ‘Terrifyment, Terrifical.” What exactly do those mean? Get rid of them.
Sometimes it’s so easy to insert wishy-washy verbs instead of rewording and finding a more active verb. I try to get rid of all the ‘made, began, became, put, take’ and a few more that deserve no place in my story.
Along those same lines of weak verbs are the one representing abstract mental processes such as ‘knew, thought, realized, recognized, seemed, appeared.’
Some editors advise you to reword any sentence starting with ‘there.’ And of course cut all words ending with ‘-ly.’ I recently read an article cursing all use of pronouns. I don’t possess the talent to attempt that. Yet.
Every day I write is also a day of learning. Every time I work with a different editor I learn something new. Sometimes one editor contradicts another and perhaps proves a little of the ‘weak word’ identification is affected by personal preference or experience.
What weak words plague you? Have you learned to strike them from your writing? Is there a particular book or workshop that has helped you with word choice?


The Happy Whisk said...

Hi Susan. I rather fancy the editing process. I'm into the slash and cut, where needed. It's a great deal of fun.

I enjoyed reading your post and look forward to reading more about your processes.

Have a Happy Writing Day :-)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I usually like doing the final edits but slashing all the dregs in the first draft isn't my favorite thing.

Helen Ginger said...

As an editor, I find that weak verbs plague a lot of manuscripts. "He was in a hurry as he walked down the street." That could be changed to: "He hurried down the street." Or to a ton of other more active verbs.

The Happy Whisk said...

What is your favorite thing?

Jemi Fraser said...

In my first drafts I use a ridiculous number of 'just', 'look', 'seemed'... a lot of qualifiers. I have so much fun slashing in the editing round :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You are so right, Helen. I'm better at stopping myself from writing in the first place but still find things like your example when I'm editing.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

LOL. Jemi, 'just' is one of my biggest sins. Dratted word!
And Happy Whisk, my favorite part of the process is that first draft when I can't type fast enough to get down what I'm thinking.

Francine Howarth said...


Thanks for dropping by my blog.

Yep, loads of fav words need slashing, *but* when push comes to shove it all depends on whether one happens to be writing past or present tense and/or realism of dialogue as opposed to stilted grammatically correct dialogue: more in line with literary prose!

Most guilt ridden word: *just* in my case.

Most despised word in any novel, which has been known to cause moi to sling a book in wild rage: rueful/ruefully in repetitive usage throughout! Ggrrrrrrrrr. ;)


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

LOL. Now you've done it, Francine. I'll be watching for ruefully all the time.