This week was my last chance to polish off my novel before sending it to my editor for the next stage.
I panicked a little. (Okay, a lot.)
And then I celebrated by lumping myself in with famous heroes.
One of the last things I did after cutting up my plot and pasting it back together was to search and destroy. If you’ve ever had your manuscript read, critiqued, or edited, you may have heard feedback like, “You use the word gasp too much.” or “Didn’t you know the word was is evil?” or “No -ly words! Ever!”
A commenter on Facebook asked if I had a list of the words I was obliterating. No, I didn’t, but why not write on up while going through? So, fellow authors, here is a good starting list for the search and destroy quest we must all undertake to clean up our writing. A word to the wise, take breaks or your eyes will glaze over. Drink coffee.
The key is to evaluate when these words are crucial to the sentence. It doesn’t mean these words must be erased from our memories and dictionaries. Think moderation and necessity. Only keep them if they strengthen the sentence.
These words are used to make adjectives stronger. Sadly, much of the time they weaken your writing.
- Only (my personal nemesis!)
Not all -ly words are bad. In fact, I’m a fan of them and I thought I used them sparingly in my manuscript. Boy was I wrong. They slathered the pages like slug slime, and most of them weren’t even needed! So, even if you think you have the -ly evils mastered, do a search anyway. Here’s how you search for them:
Signs of telling
- I wonder OR s/he wondered
- in (in conjunction with an emotion. Ex: in anger, in frustration)
- of (in conjunction with an emotion. Ex: of approval, of acceptance)
- looked/looks (in conjunction with an emotion. Ex: looked amused)
- with (in conjunction with an emotion. Ex: with surprise)
- clearly (if it’s clear to the character, it ought to be clear to the reader, so you don’t need to say this.)
- Obviously (same concept as clearly)
Begin/Start to (Also called double verbs)
Only use these if your character is actually trying something and there is a moment that defines his or her success or failure. For example, don’t have her try to tie her shoe unless it ends in failure or asking for help, etc. If she tries to tie her shoe and then walks out the door, your reader doesn’t know if she ever succeeded or not. Just say she tied her shoe.
- Begin to
- Beginning to
- Began to
- Start to
- Started to
- Starting to
- In order to (switch to just to)
Personal words you use a lot. (We all have them, don’t think you don’t.) Here are some of mine:
- Clench (teeth, jaw, fists, etc.)
- Smile (search for smil to find smile, smiling, and smiled)
What are some of your go-to words you need to search and destroy?