Saturday, July 18, 2015

Words That Kill A Story

Writing is all about words. As writers, we're always looking for the best way to express ourselves. We want to use the most descriptive words we can to make our story interesting, exciting, moving, inspiring, funny, or suspenseful. But sometimes, we just go overboard.

We all know about those extraneous words that we should not be using, the ones we should cut the very first thing when we edit. Words like 'that,' 'then,' 'but', 'well,' 'and', and so on. Like the italicized word above...that. Wouldn't you have understood what I was saying if I had written: We all know about those extraneous words we should not be using...Of course you would. So 'that' is completely unnecessary in the sentence.

But it's not just "extraneous" words we shouldn't be using in our writing. There are phrases writers use all the time which simply don't make sense. How many of you have read something like this: Her eyes followed him as he stormed out of the house. What kind of image does that produce? A pair of long-lashed eyes bumping along the walk? Umm...really? In this sentence, there are two such images. "...he stormed out of the house."  In my writer's mind, I can see him creating hailstorms and thunder clouds as he leaves. Is this the image you really want your readers to have?

How about: Her eyes were consumed with passion. The dictionary says "consume" means to use something up in such a way it cannot be recovered. I wonder what this lady did without her eyes when her passion was over? Then there is: He claimed he was telling the truth, but his eyes said otherwise. Do you suppose his eyes learned to talk when he did? That should have been interesting for his parents. Or: She dropped her eyes in embarrassment. Poor thing! I hope she dropped them on something soft, like a bed or a thick carpet.

Here is a favorite of mine, because I've seen it in so many books: Unseeing, he looked out at the setting sun.  Uh, how can he "look" at anything if he can't see?

Some more favorites: Her emerald eyes mesmerized him. What was the rest of her body doing?
His smoky eyes blazed with fire. I guess they would be smoky if they were on fire. do eyes catch on fire??
Her sultry voice grated on me.  Why? Are you a piece of cheese?
His voice came from a long distance. That must have been very hard on his throat. And where was the rest of his body?
His eyes caught and held hers. pair of eyes must have been running away to have been caught by another pair. Come on! Really?
Her heart sang with happiness. A very old favorite because it has been used so much. What song was her heart singing, do you suppose?
I thought to myself. Excuse me? Who else would you be thinking to?

All right, enough already. The point is, when we are editing our work, these are the kinds of words and phrases that need to be eliminated. Think about yourself before you write something: would your eyes drop down on the carpet just because you might be embarrassed about something? Would they be on fire, or chasing another pair of eyes down the street? I don't think so.

You don't want to use a body part of any kind, inside or outside of your body, to be the subject of your sentence. It just doesn't work.

I know, I know. This is fiction we're talking about. And these are phrases we read and write all the time. Usually we don't give them a second thought, but we should. These are cliches. Using a body part to express an emotion...for example, her heart sang with so outdated. It's the kind of thing you read when you read an old time romance novel, which are full of cliches. So be careful in your edits, and if you have written something using a body part...eyes, heart, voice, a the subject of your sentence, rewrite it. Think about all the ways in which you can say the same thing, most probably much better, without using that specific part of your ( her, his) body. Don't give an editor or an agent the opportunity to consider you an amateur.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.