Posted by: Bridgett.
The quote above could have been written just for the current stage in my writer’s journey. Revision…on steroids.
Mark Twain’s words don’t just apply to writers, though.
They do brilliantly sum up the entire writing process. A great idea or profound point will never have the impact the author intends if it’s buried within a host of unnecessary or less-powerful words.
But easy? Yeah, NOT.
How is the quote relevant for non-writers? Well, have you ever caught a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease? How often have you wished you could hit the delete button on some “wrong word” you’ve texted, e-mailed, or spoken?
So, how do we recognize the “wrong” words?
Writers can find entire libraries of books, articles, and lists on what and how not to write. Below, I’ve included a brief, partial list of the types of words experts in the field recommend eliminating from any manuscript.
Redundancies: Any word or phrase that repeats or restates what has already been written.
This may be subtle like, “He fell down.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never fallen up. (Down is redundant.)
It could be more blatant, like saying the same thing in two ways. “The room was small. It had space enough only for a single bed and night table.” (The first sentence is redundant.)
Filter words: These are words that filter the reader’s experience of the story through the eyes of the writer, rather than letting him or her “live” the events along with the viewpoint character.
Some include: seemed, felt, wondered, realized, heard, saw, etc. Example: He felt a chill. Instead: A chill crawled down his back.
-ly adverbs: These sneaky words will creep in and weaken your prose. They aren’t incorrect, from a grammar standpoint, but they aren’t as effective as strong verbs and descriptive nouns.
Example: He walked slowly through the thickly piled snow in his driveway. Instead: He slogged through the ocean of snow in his driveway.
“Telling” words: Anything that explains to the reader rather than pulling the reader into the experience. When in doubt, RUE, Resist the Urge to Explain.
This can include naming the emotion a character feels rather than showing it through body language, setting, or physical response. Also, passages of narration in which the author seems to be talking to the reader (explanations of backstory, setting details that aren’t part of the action, etc.)
Above all… Avoid any line, scene, or chapter that doesn’t move the story forward
Caution: every “rule” has exceptions. While these are, in most cases, wise to follow, one person’s “wrong word” may be just the thing that makes another writer’s line gripping, brilliant, or life-changing.
Now that I’ve bored all the non-writers to tears (oops, left out one…cliches!), let’s focus on the “wrong words” we should cross out of our communications in life.
The Bible provides several examples of words that erode our effectiveness in our attempts to “walk in love” with others.
Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it. (Ephesians 4:29 AMP)
Ephesians 5:4 (NIV) explains this further:
Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
In writing and in life, the key, I think, is to avoid unnecessary words. They don’t add anything constructive. Rather, they diminish us and the power of our message.
Your turn to Shed Your Light below…
What would you add to either list of “wrong words”?
What types of words or content do you need to cross out in your life or writing?
About the author:
Bridgett Powers has defied the limitations of impaired vision and overcome a 21-year battle against chronic pain, all of which taught her a profound truth. God shines brightest through cracked lanterns.
Now, she shares that truth through her fantasy novels, picture book, and short stories. A member of ACFW and MyBookTherapy, she also serves as co-leader and writing coach for her writer’s group, operates a proofreading and editing service, and teaches writing workshops.