Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wishy-washy, kinda-sorta weak words

Yesterday, my friend Audrey wrote a blogpost about her "crutch words", words that she overuses in her prose.  It reminded me of how a few years ago, as I was doing an editing pass on the now-trunked Crown of Druthal, I put together a list of words that I was using a bit too much, though in some cases, "too much" translated to "at all".  The list is as follows:
  • half
  • various
  • almost
  • seemed
  • appeared
  • apparently
  • presume/presuming
  • followed/following
  • now
  • smirk
  • grin
The last two were there because they were my use-too-often facial expression in Crown.  Everyone was grinning and smirking at each other.  It was quite the bemused crew. 

"Followed/following" and "now" were on the list because they tended to be indicators of weak prose.  "Followed/following" would often be about character management: one or two people actually doing something, actually going somewhere, and then a bunch of other people would just... follow.  This was a key problem with Crown: a large cast of characters who mostly served as entourage.  Sure, when I got to the Grand Finale, I made sure that Everyone Had Something To Do, but that ended up being more of a reverse-engineering job: determining a plot reason to justify the character rather than having the character come in organically from the plot.  (The whole plot of that book was pretty inorganic.  There's a reason it's trunked.)  "Now" would often be an indicator of poor time management on my part-- glossing over some events of a few weeks and then saying, "Now Augustine was sitting on the deck..." or words to that effect.

The rest of the words all represented the same basic problem: weak word choices that didn't own the action or the description.  Words that expressed doubt instead of certainty.  Words that were vague instead of being clear.  Take "various", for example.  It sends a message that the author doesn't feel like really describing things.  Or worse, really doesn't have a clear picture of what they are supposed to be describing.  Things shouldn't apparently be something, or seem to be another thing, when it's clearer and stronger to actually BE that thing. 


A. Lockwood said...

So what about "half"? Why that one? Was it usually as part of a hyphenated pairing of words?

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

Right. Especially if it's paired to a verb. To half-do anything is pretty much to half-ass it.

A. Lockwood said...

Gotcha :)

Blessed Rain said...

I use, Just, So, And then, and a few others while writing and then during rewrites I take them out. I also use some common words that I also replace with a higher tone word in editing. I don't sweat it so much while I am writing as I don't want to lose the flow - but I am sure every Author knows their key words.