Wednesday, March 17, 2010

No Thanks, I'm Trying to Quit

To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.” — George Orwell

I was critiquing a great story for a writing friend over the weekend and she mentioned something in her forwarding email about drawing attention to repetitious words. I didn’t notice any in her work, but it got me thinking about my own stories and my two favorite words ‘want’ and ‘took’. Oops, I forgot the word ‘turned’. I’m going to have to go back and check for ‘turned’ because it’s my third favorite word. These three words make a regular appearance in my first drafts and they sneak past my revising eye, too.

I also have a bunch of words listed on a sheet of paper hanging on the wall by my computer. It’s a list of overused words and ones to use sparingly. I hang it next to me in the hopes I’ll pay attention to the list and avoid the words on it or, at the very least, think about them while I revise.

My list includes the words: about, actually, almost, like, appears, approximately, basically, close to, even, eventually, exactly, finally, just, kind of, nearly, practically, really, seems, simply, somehow, somewhat, sort of, suddenly, truly, utterly, were. I’m sure there are others but you’ve got to start somewhere.

I decided to check my manuscript for the above-mentioned words. I used the “find and replace” options and did a search. It turns out besides the words ‘want’, ‘took’ and ‘turned’, I’m also partial to the words: just, really, kind of, almost, about, and even. The good news is I spent a scant half an hour searching for and eliminating most of those tired and weak words. In many instances I eliminated them from the sentence without any tweaking or substitutions. In end I was able to see how words like ‘just’ or ‘about’ weakened the sentence and were unnecessary and ineffective, if not downright annoying and boring.

I spent a little longer rewriting the sentences containing ‘want’ and ‘took’. I didn’t eliminate these words altogether but I put a serious dent in their usage.

Then there are those other words. Those words you hear every day and are so sick of hearing you wish you’d never have to hear them again. For example: if you’ve been ‘tweeting’ while ‘chillaxin’ consider your words ‘unfriended’ by Lake Superior State University. They’ve unfriended” 15 words and phrases and declared them “shovel-ready” for inclusion on the university’s 35th annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

I’m would like to construct my own List of Words to be Banished. They are as follows: whatever; seriously (in question form); totally, awesome, or the combined totally awesome; because and huh. May they never again be used as one-word statements or answers by anyone. Ever. Again. But maybe that’s the result of being a parent to teenagers.

How about you? Do you have a particular word you never want to hear again? Do you have a favorite word you love and use repeatedly? Do you have lists of words stuck to your wall?


Paula R said...

Hey Karyn, I really don't have any of those words listed. Like you, I want to create a word list, but I think it will totally take too much time. I can't believe that totally awesome is on the list. Seriously? Whatever man.

Did you start laughing yet or did I totally tick you off? No offense, I just wanted to bring a smile to your face on this wonderful day of St. Patrick's celebration. Happy St. Paddy's Day Karyn! I do want to create a list of my own, but I haven't completed my manuscript yet, so that will have to wait.

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Karyn Good said...

LOL, Paula! It's so awesome we can connect like this because I totally hear what your saying!

And you did bring a smile to my face and Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, too. Happy writing and have fun creating your own list when the time comes!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
I'm surprised you didn't notice repetition in my work (Janet did) sigh.

I'm the Queen of repetition. My favorites are that, just and little. Actually, when I think about it, I use actually a lot too. Seriously.

For the edits for my first published book, my editor highlighted in yellow every time I used the word "smile" or "smiled". That sucker was as yellow as Big Bird. I had to go through the manuscript and eliminate or substitute the majority of these smiles. By the time I was done I was thoroughly sick of the word, and I'm pretty sure I was wasn't doing much smiling.


Karyn Good said...

Hey, Jana. Your 'smiled' is my 'turned'. There was so much turning happening I was getting dizzy.

It's a great request to make of a critique, too. Good eyes, Janet! And if you are familiar with your own common offenders you can search them out and make some changes.

You've got lots to smile over with your current wip. It's a great story!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Karyn, your post was awesome. Like, totally freakin' great.

I took your advice and went through my manuscript looking for words that end in "ly", and after four hours I'm only halfway through. Crap.

I noticed a few of my favorite words - that after four hours seriously annoy me - involuntarily, suddenly and instantly. Not to mention smouldering.

Thanks to Jana, now I have to go through and check for smile. Argh! Will I ever get this thing done?

Karyn Good said...

LOL, Joanne. Because like, whatever!

Ah, yes, 'ly' words. I had to do the same search and fix you're doing right now. The good news is you'll tend to avoid them like the plague in the future :D

You may feel like you're never going to finish but your sentences will be stronger as a result. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

Helena said...

What a great post, Karyn. 'Just' has to be my greatest word-to-be-avoided. I know there are many more. My writing group buddies find most of them, but by that time, I've heard them as I read aloud! Another plus for reading aloud -- the unnecessary or over-used words begin to jump out at you.

Thought for a few minutes you guys were getting set up for April Fool's Day. Then I just giggled through the rest of the comments. You can really (that's another!) pour it on when you want to make a point. All of you!

Janet said...

Really - that's my biggest one, and just - love that one! Great list, Karyn, and a great reminder to really (see) scan those pages very carefully.

I blame my good eyes on having been a teacher. And my love of word searches. Jana specifically told us to watch, so my radar was one high alert. Just (see) sayin'!

Silver James said...

This post is like totally awesome blossom and I'm so going to just print it out and read it over and over and over again. For real! Seriously. I am.

My words: any "was" verb. Was standing. Was walking. Was crossing her eyes over the yellow words on the monitor screen. "That" is my other crutch. I do both without thinking in a first draft. If I'm lucky, I get rid of them in the second without having to highlight. Oh, I've never met an adverb I didn't like, too. I end up rewriting those a lot.

Thanks for a great piece today, and for reminding me as I'm rewriting/editing the current WIP. Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Helena. Now that you mention it, I did a lot of tweaking while I was practising for my reading!! Things sound very different when you read aloud and something clicks when you hear a word more than once, or frequently. Seriously, I'm so not kidding!

Paula R said...

Hey Karyn, I am really loving the responses to this post. They are totally awesome. Really! I just about died with laughter when I first read them, but now I just smile and shake my head. I kept jumping from blog to blog, but I finally settled down and returned to yours. It is absolutely funny and wonderfully awesome.

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Anita Mae Draper said...

But I like some of those words! I actually like 'actually' so I use it often. :) And I like 'awesome' although I only use it when referring to church because of the song Awesome God.

My 11 yo uses the word 'random' in almost every sentence.

And in my own writing, I have to catch myself from over-using 'as', 'but' and 'that'. I know there are more but (heh) I can't think of them right now.

Excellent post, Karyn.

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Janet. There's just something about 'just' that's just so appealing. And don't get me started on 'really'. If I had a dollar for everytime I had Lily say, "No really, I'm fine." I'd like totally have ten dollars.

Karyn Good said...

Hey, Silver. I scared to delve to deeply into my 'that', 'was' and 'were' usage. Seriously, I am. But I'm working on editing them to oblivion. Or at least, I'm making a dent. I hope.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you. Hope you're keeping it real. Have fun editing.

Karyn Good said...

Hey, Paula. Glad you found some time for chillaxin and taking in the freakin' awesome comments here on the Prairies.

That's for getting us started :D

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Anita. How could I forget about the total randomness of everything (smacks forehead). 'As' and 'but'! The list keeps getting longer and longer. And I think your right, the key word in all this is over-using. We don't have to ban them completely, just, like, be aware of their numbers.

Anita Mae Draper said...

The funny thing about your post, Karyn, is that yesterday I published my post for tomorrow and it's all about deleting 'that'.

Neat, huh?

connie said...


Seriously, I have had to have 'had' surgically removed. Meanwhile, I think your blog was just superfine.
Other than that - you're ownin' dude!

Karyn Good said...

Hey, Connie. Lots of times editing takes a surgical precision and can be painful. I guess we just need to chill and be all whatever about it.