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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

WORD WATCHERS ~ CUT THE FAT NOW

WORD WATCHERS ~ CUT THE FAT NOW
 
The experience of editing over fifty books and repeatedly slashing red ink across the same words and phrases, has made me hyper aware of the same issues in my own writing. I now mercilessly try to eliminate all of the same fat in my manuscripts I’ve scalpeled from others.

To write leaner more impactful prose, you must not only be willing to eliminate flabby sentences and fat words, you need to be able to recognize them. To help with this process there should be a self-help program for writers to join—Word Watchers: Lose 10% Of Your Manuscript In 10 Days...
 
Members of the writers’ group I mentor know I am on a quest to eliminate the word that from the English language. As an editor, I’ve found the dreaded word to be riddled unnecessarily through almost every manuscript I review. My rule is, if you can remove that from a sentence and the sentence still makes sense, run the word out of town on a log.
 
Compare the following:
 
•She needed to tell him that the car wouldn’t start.
•She needed to tell him the car wouldn’t start. 
•I was glad that she was doing better.
•I was glad she was doing better.
 
In both examples, the sentence becomes stronger by removing the weak link of the word, that.
 
Use a word search to see how many times that appears in your manuscript. You’ll be shocked. It’s especially overwhelming when you realize 95% of thats could be excised. Removing this scourge will strengthen your sentences without changing the integrity of your prose.
 
Of is another overused word I can guarantee is cluttering up your manuscript like a bad case of acne.
 
Compare the following:
•He examined the damaged paw of the dog
•He examined the dog’s injured paw.
 
You decide which sentence is stronger, leaner, expressed more concisely. Now think about how many sentences in your manuscript are being blemished by the of virus.
 
FAT WORDS
 
That and of are hardly the only fat words making unwelcome guest appearances in your prose. A strategic search and destroy mission needs to be implemented to eliminate other insidious manuscript invaders.
So
That
Just
Very
Like
Still
Somehow
Eventually
Suddenly
Finally
A little
The fact
Once
Beginning
Both
Any
Seemed
Began
Almost
 
FAT CLICHÉS
 
Even when you’ve ruthlessly cut all the fat words from your manuscript, you’re still not done. Your writing will be stronger and more vibrant if you create fresh ways to replace lazy cliché phrases. I was once admonished by a script editor for the many clichés I habitually used—often repeatedly. I was duly embarrassed by all the red ink highlighting the clichés in my script. These were not only cliché phrases—avoid like the plague, you can’t please everyone, the grass is always greener, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, don’t judge a book by its cover, Firing on all cylinders—but other less obvious clichés: 
 
The point being
At this point
If the time ever came
As if she were
As a result
Well and good
Light of day
Both of which
Put an end
*For an exhaustive list of clichés click here
 
CHOOSE LEAN WORDS TO REPLACE THE FAT
 
Fat words strung together can bulk out your sentences with empty calories. Make healthier word choices to make your prose more efficient… 
 
REPLACE:
• the reason for
• for the reason that
• due to the fact that
• owing to the fact that
• in light of the fact that
• considering the fact that
• on the grounds that
• this is why
WITH: BECAUSE, SINCE, WHY 
 
REPLACE:
• despite the fact that
• regardless of the fact that
• notwithstanding the fact that 
WITH: ALTHOUGH, EVEN, THOUGH 
 
REPLACE:
• in the event that
• if it should transpire/happen that
• under circumstances in which
WITH: IF 
 
REPLACE:
• on the occasion of
• in a situation in which
• under circumstances in which
WITH: WHEN 
 
REPLACE:
• as regards
• in reference to
• with regard to
• concerning the matter of
• where...is concerned 
WITH: ABOUT 
 
REPLACE:
• it is crucial that
• it is necessary that
• there is a need/necessity for
• it is important that
• it is incumbent upon
• cannot be avoided 
WITH: MUST, SHOULD 
 
REPLACE:
• is able to
• has the opportunity to
• is in a position to
• has the capacity for
• has the ability to 
WITH: CAN 
 
REPLACE:
• it is possible that
• there is a chance that
• it could happen that
• the possibility exists for 
WITH: MAY, MIGHT, CAN, COULD
 
REPLACE: 
• prior to
• in anticipation of
• subsequent to
• following on
• at the same time as
• simultaneously with
WITH: BEFORE, AFTER, AS
 
TRIMMING FAT SENTENCES
 
Here are some examples from my Fey Croaker novels of sentences filled with empty calorie words and how they should have been written...
 
FAT: …a self-loathing that often cracked her self-esteem as if it were a piece of fine crystal threatened by a diva's high notes.
 
TIGHTER: …a self-esteem as fragile as fine crystal threatened by a diva's high notes.
 
FAT: She considered, ever so briefly, the fact that her service revolver was in her purse.
 
TIGHTER: She briefly considered the service revolver in her purse.
 
FAT: Fey was about to enter the playing field of the interrogation room.
 
TIGHTER: Fey entered the playing field of the interrogation room.
 
FAT: Thieftaker nickered as soon as he saw Fey and trotted over to the corral fence to meet her. His greeting alerted Constable, who also made his way over to the steel-pole fence. Peter Dent's three horses were also in the corral, but they ignored the activity as if it weren't occurring.
 
Peter's rear yard was larger than Fey's, and with inherited money he had been able to build far more extensive facilities for his horses than what Fey had created. For Fey's part, though, she did not envy Peter all the extra work that the fancy setup required. She had more than her hands full with her own place and working full-time. She was grateful, however, that Peter was available to help out with her animals when she needed, and also that he had no problems letting Thieftaker and Constable reside in his yard. Fey fondled her horses' muzzles and whispered to them in a soothing voice.
 
TIGHTER:  Peter Dent had more acreage and used inherited money to build larger stables. They were beautiful, but labor intensive. Fey was grateful for Peter’s help, but didn’t envy him the extra work.
 
Thieftaker nickered when he saw Fey. The horse trotted over to the steep-poled corral fence to meet her with Constable following. Fey fondled her horses' muzzles, whispering in a soothing voice.
 
FAT: Fey knew she should feel tired. After all, she'd been up for over twenty-four hours, but she couldn't remember a time when she had felt more awake or more alive. All of the instincts and experience honed to a fine edge by her years as a detective were firing on all cylinders.
 
This is what it must feel like, Fey thought, when a top athlete knows she is going to win a championship even before her event starts. There is a power that comes from somewhere within, a positive knowledge that at a given moment, in a given place, there is nobody who can stand in the way of your success.
 
TIGHTER: Fey knew she should feel tired. She'd been awake over twenty-four hours, but she couldn't remember a time when she had felt more alive. The instincts and experience honed to a fine edge by her years as a detective were firing with energy.
 
Fey wondered if great athletes felt this same overwhelming sense of euphoria before the start of a championship game The power coming from within—the positive knowledge at this moment, in this place, you can’t be stopped.
 
FAT: Fey was about to enter the playing field of the interrogation room. It was the final play of the game. There were ten seconds left on the clock, and it was fourth down and forever to go. Fey was about to throw up the Hail Mary pass, but there was no doubt in any fiber of her body that the ball would be caught for the winning touchdown.
 
TIGHTER: Fey entered the playing field of the interrogation room—final play of the game; ten seconds left on the clock; fourth down and forever to go. There was no backing down.
 
Examine your own writing. Is it filled with flabby word count sentences? Can it be tightened and streamlined by better word choices? Has relying on clichés made your writing lazy? If so, it’s time to weigh in at your local Word Watchers chapter and start losing the ugly fat.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Paul. Why can't we remember those fatty words as we write?

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