Wordsmithing is futzy stuff. Tweak, twist- we forever hover over and nudge words into place, only to pluck and plop them elsewhere. Writing is sensory. It’s only right when it feels perfect. When we read it and sigh, or exclaim, or clap our hands and experience the undulations of emotion though the backdoor of words.
Writers and readers can do that – fully feel the lives and emotions of people who exist only on the page. For them, words are as pungent as sliced onions, as shocking as a plunge in a cold creek. For the writer and the reader – words are transformed into the stuff of life.
How does a writer take the human experience and transform it into dots and dashes in such a way that it transmits truth to the reader through the telling of a story that is a complete fabrication? One way is the writer’s pursuit of clarity.
Clarity in writing is an exercise in vigilance. The most complicated, complex ideas can be conveyed beautifully in simple language. And the simplest ideas can become hopelessly obtuse if bogged down in useless wording.
In my limited experience, I’ve discovered a handful of words that distract from clarity – words we don’t need in fiction writing. See if you agree with my short list:
1) Significant. A word with this many syllables should be important and useful, but in fiction writing, it isn’t. It’s vague – and while there are times a story calls for a slight of hand, a cloaked clue, it doesn’t require willy-nilly words that take up so much room and say so little. Consider a sentence I heard on the radio the other day: “The bomb went off in a crowded downtown area causing a significant amount of damage.” Tell me, news announcer dude – how could a bomb go off in a crowded downtown area and cause an insignificant amount of damage? I’m voting this word off the island!
2) Because. This is a useful word in everyday conversation, but it doesn’t belong in fiction. The word because is an explaining word – Suzy smacked Jane upside the head because Jane took Suzy’s best shoes without asking. This is a great sentence when chatting around the office water cooler. But, if you are writing a scene in which Suzy smacks Jane upside the head, the reader should be fully aware of what is going on and why. If you need to explain to the reader why something happened, you need to back up and take another run at the story. “Because” is built into the story. Casting my vote – off the island!
3) Just. I’m amazed how often this four letter word creeps into my writing. I do a universal search of my manuscripts to search and destroy this word. Why doesn’t it belong in writing? It doesn’t say anything – it’s meaningless. We tend to lean on this word crutch because we think it adjusts the emotional impact of our sentence. We use it the same way we may use adverbs in an attempt to punch up the emotional volume of a sentence; I’m just disgusted! (I’m disgusted). We insert “just” to dial the emotional tone down. I’m just kidding. (I’m kidding). Alternatively, we use it to add a sense of immediacy. I just can’t believe what I just saw! (I can’t believe what happened). No matter how you use just, it’s a filler word – one we don’t need in fiction writing. Just- pack your bags, you’re outta here.
Other words I do search and destroy missions on:
What have I missed? What word crutches have you kicked to the curb? How has it improved your writing? Please share because I’m just certain we can learn a significant amount from your really, very real experiences!