What I'm reading: Marrying Daisy Bellamy, by Susan Wiggs
First – I've learned that my next Five Star release, WHERE DANGER HIDES, the second in my Blackthorne, Inc. series, is available for pre-order at Amazon. If you haven't already read the first in the series, WHEN DANGER CALLS, you can get it at the discounted price of $1.50 at Smashwords by using the coupon code found in the Contest tab above. (Coupon expires at the end of February--don't wait.) But, even at full price at the Kindle store or All Romance eBooks it's only $2.99.
Second - after much trial and error, I've added the 'tweet meme' to this blog. If you find a post worthy of sharing, I hope you'll use it.
Okay, commercial over.
As a member of the Savvy Authors group, there's a nifty feature you can used, called "autocritter." You plug in a scene, or chapter, or more, from your manuscript and it calculates overused words. Now, we all have our personal crutch words, but this program is based on the specific overused words used in commercial fiction, so it will find not only overused words, but it tells you which ones need to be at the top of your hit list.
I plugged in the first chapter of my WIP, and discovered that although I thought I'd learned enough to cull these words as I edited each day's writing, I was still heavy on some usages. (Click on the image to enlarge--it's still small, but you should get the idea)
And why are these words on the commercial fiction Do Not Use list? Because most of them dilute your writing, especially qualifiers and weak verbs. It's apparent from the above that I use the words really and very far too often. Those need to get onto my hit list—and yes, I'm aware that I shouldn't be using them, but try telling that to my fingers, which often bypass the brain entirely.)
What about the "see/saw/look" and "knew/know/thought"? If you're into your character's head, the reader assumes these things, and you shouldn't have to tell her. If you've put your character in a room, saying "he heard the door open" doesn't have the impact of "the door opened." If you've set your scene properly, the reader will know the character heard (or saw) the door opening without having to stick in on the page. Likewise, "he thought." Self Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King) has an excellent section on how to convey thoughts without having to resort to tagging them.
What about verb choices? I refuse to say "make your writing passive" because people don't seem to understand the difference between passive voice and weak verbs. My former agent returned a manuscript to me after circling every time I used the verb "was". Saying "was" is a passive verb just isn't right. Often it's simply showing past tense.
When we're writing, we need to look for the immediacy that will connect the reader to what's going on with the character. Writing, "He was running down the street, and his heart was pounding" isn't passive voice. But isn't it stronger to write, "He raced down the street, his heart pounding." Of course, you can go another step or two, and throw in some nice metaphors or other figures of speech, but the idea is to get the reader into the character's head. And I'm sure you've been pounded with, "Show, don't tell." Using weak verbs tends toward the telling side of things.
Will these 'overused words' kill your chances of publication? Not necessarily. I defy anyone to say Michael Connelly or Lee Child write "passive" because they use the word "was" a lot. On a whim, I went back to my first published book, FINDING SARAH, which was about 85,000 words. Apparently the following usages didn't bother the editor:
Okay – 37
Just – 111
All – 280 (59 in the phrase "all right")
Right – 205 (see above)
Only – 85
Fine – 54
Looked – 135
Look – 119
Heard – 97
Could – 235
Would – 241
(And should I get my rights back and re-release the book myself, will I shore up the writing? You betcha!)
But before you take the chart above as gospel and do exactly what it says, it behooves you to look at your usages IN CONTEXT. Are they in dialogue? Would those words be the natural ones that particular character uses? So, click on that "find" button and work your way through the manuscript, asking yourself if the sentence works as well or better without the word on your hit list.
Tomorrow, my guest is author Carolyn J. Rose, who's going to talk about a dress code for writers. She's giving away a book, so be sure to come back and leave a comment.