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8 Words To Seek And Destroy In Your Writing

Published March 15, 2014 by Shadow Girl

8 Words to Seek and Destroy in Your Writing
COLUMN BY ROBBIE BLAIR NOVEMBER 9, 2012

Creating powerful prose requires killing off the words, phrases, and sentences that gum up your text. While a critical eye and good judgment are key in this process, some terms almost always get in the way. Here are eight words or phrases that should be hunted down in your story and deleted with extreme prejudice.

“Suddenly”

“Sudden” means quickly and without warning, but using the word “suddenly” both slows down the action and warns your reader. Do you know what’s more effective for creating the sense of the sudden? Just saying what happens.

“I pay attention to every motion, every movement, my eyes locked on them.
Suddenly, The gun goes off.”

When using “suddenly,” you communicate through the narrator that the action seemed sudden. By jumping directly into the action, you allow the reader to experience that suddenness first hand. “Suddenly” also suffers from being nondescript, failing to communicate the nature of the action itself; providing no sensory experience or concrete fact to hold on to. Just … suddenly.

Feel free to employ “suddenly” in situations where the suddenness is not apparent in the action itself. For example, in “Suddenly, I don’t hate you anymore,” the “suddenly” substantially changes the way we think about the shift in emotional calibration.

“Then”

“Then” points vaguely to the existing timeline and says, “It was after that last thing I talked about.” But the new action taking place in a subsequent sentence or sentence part implies that much already. You can almost always eliminate your thens without disrupting meaning or flow.

“I woke up. Then I, brushed my teeth. Then I, combed my hair. Then I , and went to work.”

“Then” should be used as a clarifying agent, to communicate that two seemingly concurrent actions are happening in sequence. For example, “I drove to the supermarket. Then I realized I didn’t need to buy anything.” Without the “then,” it would be easy to mistake this as pre-existing knowledge or as a realization that happened during the drive itself. “Then” can occasionally be useful for sentence flow, but keep the use of the word to a minimum.

“In order to”

You almost never need the phrase “in order to” to express a point. The only situation where it’s appropriate to use this phrase is when using “to” alone would create ambiguity or confusion.

“I’m giving you the antidote in order to save you.”

And after ten minutes of brainstorming for an example of a proper time to use “in order to,” I haven’t been able to come up with anything. Legitimate uses of “in order to” are just that few and far between.

“Very” and “Really”

Words are self-contained descriptors, and saying, “Think of tasty. Now think of more tasty” doesn’t help readers develop a better sense of the meal or person you’re describing.

“Her breath was very cold chill as ice against my neck.”

Mark Twain suggested that writers could “substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Another strategy is to find a more powerful version of the same idea or give concrete details. To say “It was very/really/damn hot” does little, but saying “It was scorching” helps. Even better?: “The air rippled like desert sky as my body crisped into a reddened, dried-out husk.”

“Is”

Is, am, are, was, or were—whatever form your “is” takes, it’s likely useless. When’s the last time you and your friends just “was’d” for a while? Have you ever said, “Hey, guys, I can’t—I’m busy am-ing”?

The “is” verbs are connecting terms that stand between your readers and the actual description. This is especially true when it comes to the “is” + “ing” verb pair. Any time you use “is,” you’re telling the reader that the subject is in a state of being. Using an “ing” verb tells the audience the verb is in process. By using “is verbing,” you’re telling your audience that the subject is in the state of being of being in the process of doing something.

Take this example:

“I was sprinting sprinted toward the doorway.”

If the description is actually about a state of being—”they are angry,” “are evil,” or “are dead”—then is it up. But don’t gunk up your verbs with unnecessary is, am, or was-ing.

“Started”

Any action a person takes is started, continued, and finished. All three of these can be expressed by the root form of the verb. For example, “I jumped.” The reader who stops in frustration, saying, “But when did the jump start? When did it finish?” has problems well beyond the scope of the content they’re reading.

If you’ve been doing yoga for six years, you could reasonably say, “I started doing yoga six years ago.” For you, yoga is an ongoing action with a concrete starting point. But when describing action in a story, there are few circumstances where “start” is effective.

Let’s take this case and look at the potential fixes:

He started screaming.

Is it a single scream? Use “He screamed.” Are you telling us his screams will be background noise for a while? Rather than clueing us in unnecessarily, show us the series of screams first-hand. Do you want to introduce a changed state, such as escalating from loud speaking into screaming? Show us the decibels, the gruffness of voice, the way the air feels to the person he’s screaming at, and the hot dryness in the screamer’s throat as his volume crescendos.

“That”

“That” is a useful word for adding clarity, but like Bibles on the bedstands of seedy motel rooms, the word’s presence is often out of plac<<e.

When “that” is employed to add a description, you can almost always move the description to before the term and make a more powerful image.

“Ireland was nothing but flowing green hills that flowed green.”

In many other cases, “that” can simply be dropped or replaced with a more descriptive term.

“I was drunk the night that your father and I met.”

Many other uses of “that,” such as “I wish I wasn’t that ugly”, can be enhanced with more descriptive language.

“Like”

I’m not just saying that, like, you shouldn’t, like, talk like a valley girl (though that too). Here’s the problem: “Like” is used to show uncertainty. And you. Should. Not. Be. Uncertain.

Be bold. When making a comparison, use force. Use metaphor over simile. Don’t let yourself cop out by coming up with a halfway description.

“My eyes rested on the gun for a sliver of a moment. I snapped forward, grabbed it, and it was like the chill metal flowed from the gun into my veins.”

One of the 36 articles by the infamously fantastic Chuck Palahniuk dives into the issue of like in great detail. It’s well worth checking out.

As always, Orwell’s final rule applies: “Break any of these rules before saying anything barbarous.” There are instances where each of these words fills a valuable role. However, especially among inexperienced writers, these words are frequently molested and almost always gum up the works.

Apply these lessons immediately and consistently to empower your words. Then, with practice, you will suddenly realize that you are starting to naturally trim the text in order to create prose that is very powerful.

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The Twelve Days Of [A Writer’s] Christmas (by Debbie Ridpath Ohi)

Published December 28, 2013 by Shadow Girl
Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Found on C.N.'s FB wall)

Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Found on C.N.’s FB wall)

Serial: The Conclusion

Published November 2, 2013 by Shadow Girl

Posted on September 30, 2013 by Jack Chaser

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CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Ms. Mallone, it’s Detective Barker calling again. If you could call me back it is of the utmost importance.

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Ms. Mallone, it’s Detective Barker.

Ma’am, we are investigating the case of Mr. James Willis. We know you were likely the last person he was seen with and I have some unfortunate news. I see no reason not to hide the details as it leaked to the local news within minutes of it happening.

Mr Willis was found dead in the dumpster behind the restaurant you and he had dinner at last week. Ahhhhh, it’s here…. Tino’s, I believe it’s called. A waitress found him at the end of her shift when she took out the trash.

Ma’am, the condition of the body was pretty grim. Most of his upper musculature was missing and …… there were marks on his body in and around the wounds. Our pathologist has indicated that the marks were made by a human mouth. That human teeth had…… made them.

We questioned all the staff including Alissa, your waitress, who have seen you with several men in the establishment in the last few months. They seemed to indicate you were never seen with the same men more than once and never ate while you were there.

I don`t think I need to tell you by now that one of the men, Jason Fairman, was found in a similar fashion last month.

This can all be cleared up if you come in to the station and answer a few questions. We certainly don`t think you could have done this. The coroner believes that someone over powered these men and the wounds were inflicted while they were ….. while they were still alive.

Please come in when you can.

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Hi Susan. It`s Ryan. Just wanted to thank you for an amazing night the other night. I know you didn`t eat much but the way you were looking at me said it all.

Can`t wait to see you again. call me.

CLICK

SERIAL: Part Seven by Jack Chaser

Published October 30, 2013 by Shadow Girl

Posted on September 28, 2013 by Jack Chaser

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CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Good afternoon, Ms. Mallone. My name is Detective John Barker with the County Sheriff’s Department.

We are investigating a missing person’s report filed by the family of Mr. James Willis. He has been missing since late last night and was seen in your neighborhood around the time of his disappearance.

We know you have been in contact with him in the last few days so if you could please give me a call I just have a few questions. My number is 613 847-1474.

Thank you.

CLICK

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SERIAL: Part 6 by Jack Chaser

Published October 30, 2013 by Shadow Girl

Posted on September 28, 2013 by Jack Chaser

binoculars

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

So, I’ve been just wandering around all night.

I have likely walked by your place a half a dozen times and I see your light is on so I know you,re home. I just can’t figure out why you don’t want to talk to me.

I thought things went pretty good. You laughed. You smiled. At one point, you actually shivered when you touched my hand across the table. We really had a good time.

I could just walk up to your door right now if I wanted to. I am that close.

All that time I wasted. Thinking I was anything but a piece of meat to you. Spending money I didn’t fucking have for you to just brush me off right after dinner like I meant nothing.

I am standing on your fucking door step right now and I know you can hear me. You hear me out here, you fucking slut!

I should just kick this fucking door down but no. I am going to wait. I will wait until you think you are completely happy and then I will destroy it. I will fuck you in every possible way I can think of. I will choke you while I fuck you until you pass out and are so near death you can see the fucking gates of heaven. Then I will bring you back because miserable cunts like you deserve to be rotting in hell.

I really thought I could fall in love with you but you are just like all the other whores I have ever went out with. I know I am not the best looking guy and could likely hit the gym more often but……

I can fucking hear you right behind the door, you bitch!

I can practically hear you breathing.

Open the door, Susan! I just want to talk. I promise.

Open the fucking door. You can even record everything I say. I just want to tell you to your face that you will never find anyone better than me.

Fine. You know what . Fuck you. I should have just waited here the other night and let you watch what I did to your cat. That pussy suffered. The fucking same way you will. Be seeing you.

James……..

Oh, now you open the fucking door.

You don’t understand…….

Oh, I get it alright. Its typical. Bitches like you never get what you have coming to you. That changes right now.

I didn’t want to hurt you.

Hurt me? You have to be fucking kidding. You honestly think you can hurt me?

Oh, I think I can.

Wait.

What are you doing?

What the fuck are you doing?

Stop.

STOP!

PLEASE, STOP!

SERIAL: Part Five by Jack Chaser

Published October 29, 2013 by Shadow Girl

Posted on September 27, 2013 by Jack Chaser

catSERIAL5

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Bitch.

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

So who the fuck is the new guy now? Another fucking brother? Yeah. I fucking doubt that.

Don’t try to deny it. I saw the two of you at the same fucking restaurant you took me to. Did you order his fucking dinner for him the same way you did mine? Make him pay for your meal you just pushed around your plate? Fucking waste of fucking money. You never even touched it. A fucking hundred dollars for dinner and all you did was sip a glass of wine.

Is that your thing? Leading fucking guys on? Get them to spend money on you and then leave them dangling? That fucking bottle of wine was over half my pay cheque and I don’t even get a god damn kiss good night.

Fuck you.

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Just call me,please?

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Okay. I can take the hint. You don’t want to talk to me. I fucking hate being ignored but if that’s the kind of whore you want to be then go be it.

I waited outside your place for over four hours and you never showed up. Likely out slutting it up with some new guy. All I wanted was for you to tell me to my face that you didn’t give a shit about me.

Hell, I even sat on your step for a while and scratched your cat behind the ears. It was certainly a much more appreciative pussy than you will likely ever be.

Good bye, Susan. I hope the next guy you screw around bends you over in that restaurant and fucks you like you have fucked he guys you take there.

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Don’t bother looking for your cat.

Bad things happen to pussies that don’t play nice.

CLICK

SERIAL: Part Four by Jack Chaser

Published October 27, 2013 by Shadow Girl

Posted on September 26, 2013 by Jack Chaser

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

So, that’s it? You’ve moved on?

You could have fucking told me there was another fucking man in your life. Fuck.

That’s fine. It’s just fucking fine.

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

Umm, look.

I am really sorry. I saw on your Facebook page before you removed me that your brother was in town for a few days.

Even you have to admit that to anyone seeing you guys together, the way you were draped over him, might make it look like you guys were a couple. I mean he practically was grabbing your ass, for God’s sake.

It was just really painful to see you with someone else alright?

So just call me when you have a minute. Please.

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

CLICK

Hi, this is Susan. I can’t come to the phone right now so please leave me a message and I will call you right back.

BEEP

You really don’t have to be such a bitch about this. I really fucking hate being ignored. It’s stupid sluts like you leading guys like me on that really gets girls hurt. It sure would be shitty if something happened to you before you accepted my apology.

CLICK

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