Wednesday, July 27

Three Words That Are Killing Your Manuscript

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

There are no bad words in writing, but there are some that like to hang around with unsavory prose and encourage us to be lazy writers. They want us to take shortcuts, expect our readers to know what we meant to say, and whisper in our ears that the rest of our writing isn’t good enough to get our ideas across.

It’s not their fault, they just want to be helpful, but they don’t realize that good writing comes from strong words, not shortcuts and half measures. They have no idea they're killing your manuscript and mucking up your story. Sometimes they step up and do their job, but more often than not, revising to eliminate them from your manuscript is best for everyone.

Suddenly


Suddenly thinks it’s helping you create tension and shock, but it’s telegraphing the surprise and ruining the moment. As soon as readers see it, they know to brace themselves and hold on, so whatever happens next isn’t as impactful as you’d hoped. Suddenly also enjoys melodrama, so your emotional and unexpected moment ends up feeling like an old black and white movie serial from the 30s.

Suddenly likes backup, so it frequently brings its pal when along to get readers attention and make them look. Together, they make a mess and turn good prose into told prose.
Bob was sneaking along the edge of the building, when suddenly, three zombies charged out of the bushes.
It’s a good try, but no reader is going to be surprised by that. There’s no tension, no buildup, and nothing to make them gasp in shock.

(Here’s more on telegraphing the plot)

Because


Because likes to explain the joke before readers have a chance to laugh. It thinks it knows everything and wants to share that knowledge, but it’s not malicious. Just a little needy.

Because has a good heart, and it wants your readers to fully understand what’s going on and why it’s happening. But it doesn’t realize that readers don’t want every situation explained to them. They want the mystery of why the best friend is acting squirrelly, they want to figure out why everyone is wearing gloves, they want to realize three chapters later that a seemingly innocent mistake was a clever ploy to mislead the protagonist.
Jane paused outside the room, because Bob was in there alone and she wasn’t sure she wanted to talk to him right now.
It’s more fun to let Jane pause, act oddly and walk away, so readers can wonder why she doesn’t want to be alone with Bob.

(Here’s more on the problem with explaining too much in your novel)

Knew


Knew is a busybody. It likes to give away all your character’s secrets and share every little thought that goes through their heads to the world. It doesn’t let your characters hide behind ambiguity, it butts in and tells readers exactly what they know and leaves nothing for readers to wonder about.

Knew often prods because into trouble, revealing what a character knows just so because will jump in and say “I know how!” Knew has a bit of an attitude problem and likes to get other words into trouble.
Sally knew what was going on between Bob and Jane, it was so obvious.
Sally knew what was going on between Bob and Jane, because Bob acted like a kid with a crush whenever he saw her.
(Here’s more on spotting motivational tells in your writing)

All three of these words think they’re helping you write a great story, so it’s okay if you want to be nice and let them hang around during the first draft. But when it’s time to get serious and revise that draft, politely tell them it’s time to go home.

How often does suddenly, because, or knew try to muck up your manuscript?

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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14 comments:

  1. I also purge 'only' and 'felt' as much as I can.

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    1. Only is one of my crutch words, too.

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  2. "Realize" is one I struggle to eliminate, along with "felt" and "even" and "now." Some of these simply show up more often than I'd like.

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    1. I could do posts on all of those :)(And probably will at some point!) Even is one I also have to edit out of my work.

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  3. Using these words contributes to telling instead of showing!

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  4. Great post. Suddenly isn't a problem for me. It was a dopey movie with Frank Sinatra. Because is a minor problem, but I catch most of them. On the other hand KNEW infects my work. Getting rid of it will now be part of my rewrite process.

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    1. I keep a list of "words to double check." I search for each one after the first draft is done and edit them out where needed. Might be helpful for you, too if you haven't done that yet :)

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  5. Suddenly, I knew the answer because Janice told me. :) Sorry, I couldn't help myself. It's hot and my brain is melting.

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    1. Hehe, no worries, I love corny humor. Just look at my Facebook page!

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  6. Excellent! Perfect timing for my wip.

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  7. I love your approach to this article. Those little words with their own "life". But, hard to tell them to go away when you've made them such gosh darn cute little buggers. :)

    Also loved the article. Thanks!

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    1. Hehe, thanks! I guess I was in a silly mood when I write this :)

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