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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Writer's Workshop: Weak and Empty Words

I'm gonna actually talk about the nuts-and-bolts of writing now.  Like, the specific minute details of words and so on that most people don't even realize exist.  We'll start by looking at some truly weak and useless words that have very little, if any, place in your writing.

Remember Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back," how he said "Do, or do not; there is no try."  Well there isn't much place for "Seemed."  Something is or isn't.  The only time you should be using this word is if your characters themselves are unsure, and really, you can think of better ways to convey this than "seemed."  "Seemed" also encourages telling as opposed to showing.  Which is also bad.  Duh.  Look here:

"She seemed happy."
"She smiled and laughed."

The second sentence is more effective at conveying an emotion and doesn't tell us the information, but shows us.

I recently had somebody point this out to me in something I wrote and noted it as a "filler" word, which was true.  Various is a vague word and usually goes along with other vague words.  Like "Various things," or "Various ideas," and so on.  Those words are empty and don't provide the reader with anything meaty.

"He carried a sack full of various bits of junk."
"He carried a sack full of broken clock parts, empty cans, and rusty nails."

The second sentence gives more detail and maybe we can actually learn something from it.  He's got all metal stuff!  what's he doing with all that metal?  Whatever he's doing, it's a lot more informative than just saying "junk."

This goes for all tenses of the verb.  If you have to tell the reader how something felt (whether it's a physical sensation or an emotional one), that's a bad thing.  You're telling, not showing.  Don't do that!  Stop it!  Bad writer, no biscuit.

"The iron felt hot."
"The iron glowed a dull red and he jerked his hand away as the heat bit his fingers."

Yeah that second one is longer, but it sure sounds a lot nicer!  I know Shakespeare said "Brevity is the soul of wit," but it's okay to indulge a little.  you're not writing print for a newspaper, you're writing a story.  Spruce it up a bit.

Lord knows there's loads more, but three is enough for today.  Those three are pretty big and show up a lot.  And yes, I use these too.  I'm just another poor sinner.  But I also try and keep my eye out for them and get rid of them when and where I can, and I encourage you to do the same.

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