As some of you may know, I've been working on getting my frist 3 novels of the Sabrina Strong series out as an Indie. To do this, I figured I should go through them, line-by-line, and then do a search key for certain words or phrases that I tend to use a lot.
A read-through will take me days, cause some redness of the eyes--meaning I'd better quit while I'm ahead. You know what I mean. The word search is an all day thing, if I have a good start in the morning and a few breaks (such as eating and doing dishes and a few small breaks for menial chores, and telling my husband the truck looks great after two or three hours he spent washing and waxing it) (and then he grilled chicken tenderloins for lunch--yum!).
Back to my chore. Finding that I've used way too many words like "just", or "even" or "very" is only the tip of the iceberg. I have others that I use, like "I felt".
The whole while I was going through this search and find (find and destroy mission), reminded me of a long-ago time when I was a newby writer and I had joined a writing group all the way in Dubuque Iowa, and sat in on 3 different levels of writers. We all read a chapter, taking our turns, and the others would make some sort of comment. The man and the helm, (well, such a common name we'll use it here), John (III) had a loathing for the word WAS. He also thought Stephen King was a lousy writer. Since John wrote horror, I could see where he would say this. He was jealous of King's success, and his lack there of--there I said it.
This was a good 30 years ago, and John III is probably at his reward by now.
So, there I was trying my darndest to pick up hints and suggestions from all these people. There were poets (published), and one English teacher, and one woman (we'll call her Lady K), had just gotten her book accepted by John III's agent, and then went on to be published by Zebra. And John III had some published books as well, through his agent.
The be verbs were naughty, and the word "was" was trash. Now not to take anything from any of these great people who worked at their craft just as hard as any of us, I want you to know I was in awe of Lady K's writing abilities. I wanted to emulate her--not in a romance field, mind you, but at least write as well as she. I was a long, long way off from that point in my writing. You tend to envy the writers you love to read when you are doing your best to write like they do. I know that's how writers learn to write by emulating their favorite authors--and so it should be, and then you find your "voice", and your writing takes on it's own style.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. The dirty word WAS. When I attempted to not use that word, it became obvious I was not any where near good enough. I was told, at one meeting, that I had "tried too hard". That was rather defeating, really. I went back and re-wrote (I probably got only a few chapters done that winter). I think I came back and it was still lousy.
After quitting some time in the summer, I was so cofused and felt like I'd never be able to do this, I quit writing for a while. I read a lot. I read King--I had no problem with his writing. And I read "Ghost Story" by Peter Straub. I believe I had this book and re-read it. I should have come into John III's house with it and plopped it down open to page 11. There are 13 WAS's on that page alone! Go on, go check it out. I'll wait...
It wouldn't have bothered me at all had I never been told by John III that this word is crap, and we should avoid it like the plague.
Okay. Let us just take a line. Very simple line like, oh....
I was sick.
As a sentence it tells you up front what's going on. I'm sick. But the word WAS is in there. CRAP! Delete.... Start all over. So, this person is sick. How do I inform the reader of this w/o having to used that effing word?
Okay... How about
I felt sick.
Now, yeah, we have her feeling sick. But OMG! The word feel/felt is on my list of BAAAAAD words and I can't have her feeling anything, can I? So, okay, my brain has to exicute gymnastics in order to find some word that won't upset those who will frown upon that word as well, and call me a "hack".
Okay, you ready?
My stomach ached from eating too much and I wanted to vomit on the linoleum.
So, now instead of using four or five simple words I've used 15. Not a "was" in sight. Is it better? Sure. Now you know how she's feeling, and really, you don't want to see what happens next. Or do you?
The following is my own paraphrasing of some lines from the obove mentioned book. (I've changed the POV person). My question is, are you bothered by anything in it? I mean really? Is it lousy writing? Or, is it just lazy writing?
The woman was a stranger to me, I wasn't supposed to know her, and she was just someone I thought I knew, and I was aware of her perfume... a car flew by and a man was yelling something, and she turned to look. I was aware of the house nearby because of the iron railings and the lettering on the windows...
Can you write better? Sure you can. But my question, back in 1984 was, if this guy had gotten published writing like this, why do I have to?
If you recall my mentioning of Lady K above, her writing excicuted incredible style and grace you wouldn't think she had much problem finding some other way of writing a sentence and she deserved to be published. Of course romance style and horror styles are different. One must be more flourish-y, and the other more to the point in your face sort of writing.
I think I want to say you have to find a middle ground. You don't want your pages to be dotted by words like "was", "just", "very", and so forth. I found that I was using the word "So," to begin dialogue. I had no idea I was doing that. "So, what does that mean?" "So, who is it, anyway?" "So, why'd you call?" that sort of thing. Those are easy to get rid of, just rip them out and re-do the sentence. "Who is it, anyway?" You don't want your character to sound redundant. But I wasn't going to go crazy and get rid of all the "so's" in the page when it wasn't in dialogue. I did try to mix it up some, but if someone's going to read my book and start trashing it because I used 3 so's in a page they can kiss my vampire's a$$.
I've gone through the mill and have been spit out for decades. I'm not going to spill tears because someone has a problem with a word I used too often. I do my best and I move on.
I once had a publisher (tiny-tiny), and now it's all up to me. So, I'm working on this, and can see where I've improved on my writing skills (if you don't see this in your own writing in something you wrote a year ago, you need to evolve). Sure, there are those who can write fluff and it all sounds so wonderful, but at some point you have to get into the story and what's going on. Don't hyperventilate over a couple of words.
I see that I might possibly have Vampire's Trill re-published this coming week, if all goes well. Working on Vampire Ascending now. But gotta take a break in between.
Thanks for stopping by.
Do you have one word that you use way too much and find yourself pulling out your hair trying to get rid of it? Go ahead and share. We won't laugh... well, maybe a little. But we're laughing with you not at you.