Welcome to Day Twenty-Eight of Fiction University’s Month-Long Revision Workshop. Over the last month we’ve been working on the larger revision issues and ignoring the specifics of the text (in most cases). Our stories are now solid, our structure and various story arcs are sound, and our scenes flow smoothly from one idea to the next. The novel is “done,” and we feel comfortable that it’s good and well-written. Now it’s time to polish our literary jewels until they shine, so roll up those sleeves and let’s get into the nitty gritty of the individual word choices.
Yesterday we got rid of the chaff, and breathed new life into stale prose. Our next step is to sneak in and fix those common words that are easy to mix up, and the accidentally hysterical phrases we sometimes write.
Today’s let focus on misused words and awkward phrases.
1. Correct Commonly Misused Words
These are words we often misuse (mostly by accident). I’ve added a few of the tricks I use to remember them.
Who vs that: Who is for people, that is for things.
Few vs less: It takes less time to count fewer things. You can also try counting whatever you're referring to. One hour, two hours, etc. Not one time, two time.
Farther vs further: How far do we have to go? Far = distance = something measurable.
Which vs that: Which is used in restrictive clauses,which can be taken out and still understand the sentence. That is used when taking that out changes the sentence’s meaning.
Only and just: Are they modifying the right word?
Bring vs take: You take a vacation. Vacations are usually away from you, and you have to go to them. Bring that to me. Bring comes toward me.
In vs into: Into indicates motion. In indicates being inside something.
On vs onto: Onto typically indicates movement. On indicates resting upon something.
Lay vs lie: Chickens lay eggs, but dogs lie down. Chickens put the egg on the ground, dogs put themselves on the ground.
Affect vs Effect: Affect produces A change. Effect means a change has occurred.
Literally vs Figuratively: Figuratively is a figure of speech. Literal means exactly what is says.
A lot vs Alot: Alot is not a word.
All Right vs Alright: Alright is also not a word, but after years of misuse, it’s heading toward acceptance. Your call, but most will say change it.
Irregardless vs Regardless: Irregardless is another non-word.
Who vs Whom: Rephrase it using he or she to test, For example: “To whom am I speaking?” becomes “I am speaking to him” (use whom) vs “I am speaking to he.” “Whom is at the door?” becomes “Him is at the door” vs “He is at the door” (use who).
2. Correct Homonyms
These are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently. Make sure you're using the right one.
- There vs their vs they’re
- It’s vs its
- Whose vs Who’s
- Your vs You’re
- Altar vs Alter
- Phase vs Faze
- Peak vs Peek vs Pique
- Accept vs Except
- Loose vs Lose
- Complement vs Compliment
3. Rethink Any Comically Disembodied Body Parts
These are phrases where a body part (eyes, hands, fingers, feet, heads) is doing something all on its own. Eyes dart around rooms, feet wander the streets, hands reach for things--often with unintentionally comic results. If the body part sounds like it’s a separate entity from the character, and you’re not trying to instill that feeling, consider revising.
4. Revise Any Misplaced Modifiers or Dangling Participles
Modifiers are phrases or clauses that add additional information to a word in the sentence (typically the closest noun). When a modifier is in the wrong place and describes something else, hilarity can ensue. For example, “The cart drove under an arch, filled with watermelons” vs “The cart filled with watermelons drove under an arch.” In the first example, it’s the arch that’s filled with watermelons, not the cart. Dangling participles are the funnier cousins to misplaced modifiers, often dangling at the end or beginning of a sentence but not really belonging to anything in it. They refer to a subject that isn’t present in the sentence. For example: “Clawing at the wall, Bob shot the zombie” vs “Bob shot the zombie clawing at the wall.”
If you're looking for a little extra help, try Fiction University faculty Jodie Renner's guides: Quick Clicks: Word Usage: Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips and Quick Clicks: Spelling List: Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips.
After today’s session, we should have corrected any misused words and smoothed over awkward phrases. Next, get rid of any unnecessary repetition.
Tomorrow: Eliminate Unnecessary Repetition
New to the At-Home Workshop? Find the current list of revision steps and earlier prep work on the introductory page.
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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