Writer’s Coloring Box


Continuing on my story of what it means to have weak, or strong writing and my personal eureka experience. See earlier blog post(s)

In the course of editing I have those cards I told you about that I flip through. There are different words on the cards that, one at a time, I check through my manuscript and edit. It does sound rather laborious. Maybe as time goes on I will find an easier way to do it but this is the process at this point.

The first word on my list is “was”. I try to limit the number of ‘was’ words on the page to three or four. I find when I eliminate the ‘was’, I usually structure a stronger sentence. Too many ‘was’ and I hear a lisping buzzz when I read my pages.

I also look at “ly” words. I strive to minimize the number of words ending in ‘ly’. I find that when I re-write the sentence I am able to use more powerful words that give me greater meaning than an ‘ly’ word would have produced.

I do the same process for “that”. There are many times that is an unnecessary word. The sentence will have equal meaning with or without the ‘that’ word. At times ‘that’ is a meaningless word. For example, in the sentence — He mused aloud, hoping to draw out knowledge that the warrior might not realize that he possessed. Yes, I know there are lots of problems with this sentence. However, Take out the ‘that’ words and the meaning doesn’t really change. You have — He mused aloud, hoping to draw out knowledge the warrior might not realize he possessed. It is still an awkward weak sentence but I think it illustrates the point I was making. It is certainly better without the ‘that’ words muddying it up.

Another word on my card deck, is “it”. I can’t remember who told me that the word ‘it’ was a parasite sucking meaning out of sentences. I examine each usage of ‘it’ and work hard to give a word that has real meaning.

I have another collection of favorite words that I over use because they are convenient. Shrugged, smiled, growled. You know the list of words that you tend to stick in when you are drafting along. Look for those and reduce the echo.

There are more words on my cards. Some help me identify passive writing. Others identify places where I am distancing the reader with un-necessary words like She felt, She thought, etc.

I think as I become more experienced I will write tighter drafts without as many of these common weak writing flaws.

How about you. What do you edit for?

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5 responses to “Writer’s Coloring Box

  1. Oh, man, once I learned how not to use WAS my writing skyrocketed.

    I “smile” too much.

    When I’m reading for content I keep a small pad of paper near me to write down words that throw me out of the story or that I use too much. Then I search for them when I’m done.

    • I agree Abigail. The longer I write the more I work away from some of those rookie crutches even at the draft level. However, I continue to check for just in case.

      Unfortunately, I continue to miss the occasional mis-placed modifier. In my first contest entry the judge said to “watch for mis-placed modifiers.” I have to laugh about it now. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I had to go look up what that meant. oh jeash.

  2. Eden, your blog is full of surprises for me. I haven’t even thought about such nice words as “it”, “was” as being parasites. The only thing I’ve noticed is that for English learners it is much more difficult and takes a longer time to understand a sentence where “that” is omitted.

  3. LOL Well Olga. Not ALL appearances of “that” are evil. Sometimes you need a well placed that, or it, or was.

    Take a look at these two sentences. They both have other flaws to discuss on another day.

    1. She made her way across town to a budget efficiency that Peter had arranged for her.

    Do we need the ‘that’ or does it read smoother without loosing any meaning.

    She made her way across town to a budget efficiency Peter had arranged for her.

    2. “Ahem, well, this one is important. If you get this job done, the big guy just might give you that soul you’ve been wanting.”

    On this example if you remove ‘that’ then the sentence doesn’t make any sense at all. “If you get this job done, the big guy just might give you soul you’ve been wanting.”

    In edits read the sentence. Clarity always trumps. Happy reading.

    • Well, now you’re speaking about two different uses of “that”. I meant the first one. We don’t omit “that” in Russian, so it’s difficult for us to get used to omitting it in English. 🙂