cecilia 33

Way back in October Cecilia 33 left a comment with a question:

I am a Language Arts teacher. I like to tell my students when they write they need to always ask themselves,”Do I need this information in my story?” For students of all ages it is hard to take things out, to edit. I think I will try your exercise of stripping the words from sentences that are not needed and then slowly add some words back. I think it will make the writing tighter and more directed.

Did you ever notice that some writers use the same descriptive words and phrases over and over? Young writers, (school age) do that as well. How do you find descriptive words to move the story along, but do not become overused?

I think most authors are aware of this tendency. I myself obsess about over-using expressions or words, and I’m hyper sensitive to it in other people’s work. To some degree I don’t think it’s avoidable, much like a nervous habit. If there is one author with a large body of work you’re very familiar with, you probably can name one or two personal quirks this way.

So there’s two problems: not to over-use or re-use the words that are deeply embedded in your psyche, and not to become so paranoid about doing so that you freeze up and can’t write at all.

Have you noticed quirks like this in one body of work? Here’s an example I think I’ve mentioned before. For a long time (maybe not anymore) if Stephen King had a pie to mention in a story, that pie had strawberries in it.  I know that in my case, the word oddly tends to show up a lot. I always do a search to root out the little buggers, and I’m always amazed, later, at how many I missed.

Got examples?

7 Replies to “cecilia 33”

  1. “a bit” I’m always qualifying by tacking the phrase “a bit” on the end of sentences. I was working through my revision of Twilight, and it nearly drove me nuts.

  2. I noticed as a young teenager that whenever a V.C. Andrews character lost her virginity, “a hot, searing pain came and went.” (Later on, I decided that I definitely disagreed with the “and went” part. Did I really just say that? But seriously, was V.C. Andrews’ ghostwriter a man?)

    Also, I read L.M. Montgomery rather obsessively (that’s both a past-tense AND present tense “read”), and long ago I noticed that there are several full sentences that she recycles nearly verbatim a few times.

    There are more examples that are floating just below the level of conscious thought, and I just know I’ll think of them at 2 A.M. Maybe I’ll log on then and leave another comment.

    In my own writing for school, it seems like I have to be on guard against a different phrase or wood for each paper.

  3. Diana Gabaldon uses the word “alacrity” a lot. I’ve noticed, when I’m writing, I use the word “turned” way too much (as in, “she turned and smiled” — when I only need to say, “she smiled”). Those kinds of habits are hard to break but I’m working on it.

  4. Paullina Simons uses the words ‘mute’ and ‘inaudible/ inaudibly’ a fair bit…but I quite like them. You could say ‘silent’ though. They don’t drag on me yet.

    I found myself saying ‘sure’ too many times in dialog and I had to cut that out and I had a tendency to overuse the word tingling or derivatives thereof.

    Thank goodness for the ‘Find’ feature.

    I was reading ‘First you have to row a little boat’ the other day and I think the word inexorable was well and truly overused.

  5. MLS859 (Lynn) mentioned the use of the word “alacrity” Diana Gabaldon uses, but the one that she uses that always sticks out to me is “cupping” or “cupped” — when any soft, round anatomical bit is being held and fondled.

  6. I could be wrong:

    Red corn soup. Does it taste different from yellow, white, or blue corn soup? I wouldn’t expect anyone except Elizabeth to distinguish between corn colors, since she’s travelled more widely than the rest and so might have encountered more corn varieties.

    Although it might be possible that at high elevations in New York there might have been more than one variety of corn that grew there then, I would expect only one variety because I don’t think corn hybridization hadn’t started yet. If that assumption is so, then they wouldn’t really have known there was any other type of corn. Just corn soup. Just like in engineering the first widget is called a widget, then later variations lead to widget1, widget2, etc.

    Ah well. You asked. And I could be wrong.

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