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Words I hate with a passion!


LJH

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blog-0426691001376417740.jpgAs an editor of fiction, (in South Africa there aren’t many), I have come across manuscripts that belong at the bottom of the slush pile, manuscripts with a literal value, manuscripts that are mediocre, entertaining, and some downright sloppy.

 

At times I value the plot, other times the characters, but, in the end, it doesn’t matter what I value, essentially the publisher has the last say. All I do is make sure that the manuscript is as perfect as it can be the moment it lands on the publisher’s desk.

 

My view of perfection must always be linear to the writer’s view of perfection. You might argue and say, Well, I’m writing for myself. By all means do so, and make sure that you stash it in a drawer, with all the other manuscripts you have written that will never see the light of day. If you are writing for yourself, please, please do keep it to yourself.

 

However, if you wish to share your writing with a workshop group, or editor, and you wish to grow through the process of learning the craft, by all means I will do my best to make sure your writing is handsome to the eye.

 

With this in mind, there are words that I never want to see in a novel.

 

I make a list of the author’s favourite words, these are words that the author uses repeatedly.

 

In many manuscripts I mark the margin with something like: Be careful of this word, it is used repeatedly throughout the chapter. A word like JUST. It is used in dialogue so often that the author is not aware that he has repeated it 45 times in a chapter. The warning will be something like this: JUST – try to stay away from using this word, it tends to be repetitive. I am reducing all JUST’s.

 

Other repetitive words include: SO, WELL (especially at the beginning of sentences, and often used in dialogue), SMIRK, THE FACT THAT.

 

The following qualifiers and verbs: A BIT, A LITTLE, FAIRLY, HIGHLY, BACK, LOOK, KIND OF, MOSTLY, PRETTY, QUITE, RATHER, ACTUALLY, REALLY, SLIGHTLY, SOMEWHAT, SOMETHING, SORT OF, THAT WHICH, AS WELL,THOUGH, LOVERLY, WONDERFUL, BEAUTIFUL, ADORABLE, HORRIBLE, NASTY, TERRIBLE, SILLY, COMELY. THE REASON WHY. THEN (too many). THAT (too many).

 

The list goes on and on. These words do not convey what the writer is seeing. He sees something terrible but doesn’t allow the reader to see it. He sees a beautiful man or woman, but fails to convey the beauty. If the writer uses any of the 5 senses to convey the last nine words in the list, then he will have succeeded in showing the reader, instead of telling the reader what he/she is seeing.

 

Another pet peeve of mine is WOULD OF, instead of would have, COULD OF, instead of could have.

 

Body parts that act on their own: HER HAND WAVED, instead of He/she waved.

 

LOOK and GAZE. These two verbs are so overused in all writing, including mainstream. There are better words to use, that is why there is such a thing called a thesaurus.

 

The words BEGAN TO and STARTED TO. In good writing, there is no beginning. The characters just DO IT. Which is better? He began to scream or He screamed? The horse started to gallop up the hill or The horse galloped up the hill?

 

Leave out the word THEN as much as possible. Why? Most things happen sequentially anyway.

 

He THOUGH TO HIMSELF. Well, who would he think to other than himself? TO HIMSELF is redundant. Delete it.

 

There are so many words that I scream at. Unnecessary articles, a/an/the. Whole cliché’s. Unnecessary words. Roundabout and indirect words. Redundant words and phrases like THE SKY ABOVE. The sky is above. Everyone knows that. (I should hope so). Unnecessary possessives like: She held up the diamonds, (her) eyes gleaming.

 

Other words I dislike are: SO AS. UH OH. VERY. SUDDENLY.

 

I AM SAT HERE. (It’s true that someone may have sat you there) but it should be I am sitting here.

 

Why do I dislike all of the above? They call attention to themselves. The moment a reader starts noticing repetition, he/she is no longer lost in your story. When the reader begins to play with his commitment ring after the tenth THE FACT THAT, you’ve lost a reader.

 

I am not against using any of the above in dialogue. Dialogue exists to show character and to move the story forward, it exists to create conflict. But if I find these words used repeatedly in the narrative, most of them will be deleted.

 

Churchill once said: This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.

 

I second this.

 

If your manuscript is riddled with all of the above, then it’s not ready for an editor. Your work is not finished until you have these all ironed out. When I say ironed out, I mean that you should play with the sentences. Never rush. Especially if you are writing for an audience. I dislike rushed work. I can see it immediately from reading the first paragraph. Make your sentences crisp, clear and precise. Clarity and precision are paramount. Rewrite that troublesome sentence 100 times if you must, but please get it right. Not for the editor, not for the publisher, do it for yourself.

 

Have a juggernaut weak, and should I not great, my hand will wave from where I am sat.

 

Hugs

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I had an editor cream me repeatedly for 'independently moving body parts'. I'm guilty of using passive word choices all the time too; I've been dinged a few times and told search them and re-write. It is a struggle not to use them, but it's worth it if you want to present your plot and characters in the best light. This is a great list of words and phrases Louis has shared. If you want to know how guilty you are of using them, use Word's find feature on your latest work and see just how many times the word just, than, was, etc...

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Thanks Cia. I found another Microsoft editing tool, it's called SmartEdit Lite and it is downloaded free of charge. Of course there is a comprehensive version that costs 59 dollars. But the Lite version works and I'm loving it.

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Well, Cia has made me conscious of contractons and head hopping.  I'll have to work on omitting these words when possible.  Maybe my brain will revive itself if I can accomplish these things.  Thanks for this Louis.

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**wonders who has angered the Louis, and would like to know if they survived the encounter**

 

Thanks for sharing this pearl of wisdom *sniggers* and I hope everyone finds a nugget of truth and is now able to see the wood for the trees.  Will add this to my own bag of tricks.

 

**ducks from the very heavy objects being hurled in his direction**

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You call attention to redundancy. How true this is. Any word has its place, and every word can be overused.

 

It's easy to fall into staid habits of expression. Often, we adopt terms of speech and writing because they're popular, common. Stale.

 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Worthy of consideration, as always.

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*Body parts that act on their own* I know a couple!

 

 

lol! Excellently done. I would keep this in mind.

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Hmm, i know of one body part, not a couple. LOL.

 

Andy, i may have sounded aggressive in this post but no one has angered me at all. I guess i needed to make a point. Clarity and precision. LOL.

 

Rustle, i agree with you. Redundancy is something we should all work on. This goes for any genre, although i am not too sure about redundancy in poetry.

 

Mann, i have read your work and found very few cliches. I am not totally against using cliche, as long as it is original and in context with what is being written. There are enough cliches in pop songs to fill ten thousand written pages. An original cliche is always fun to read. But if the work is painted over with cliche after cliche, then i see a problem. And if the work in itself is a cliche, well, that's just too bad, the writer will need to adjust his thoughts.

 

Jo Ann, in general, i am asking every writer to reconsider his story before sending it off to an editor or a publishing forum, on the net, or otherwise. These words are just the tip of an iceberg and there are thousands more.

 

Thank you all for the fine comments folks

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When I read the title of this topic, I thought it would be about issues like Aldous Huxley's use of the word "pneumatic" in Brave New World, or lugubrious, which sounds more like a sexually transmitted disease applicable only to aliens made out of peanut butter, and nothing like its actual meaning. Or the quick airborne transmission in the abuse of the suffix -ism, which is almost sadder and definitely more pathetic than child abuse and a larger epidemic than the flu. Or words like niggardly, which is perfectly functional in sound and meaning, but makes people look at you funny if you say it out loud.

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Oh yeah. Succinct. You quote Aldous Huxley who wrote a lot of literary fiction dealing with the deep psyche. His novels are complex and deal with universal issues. I guess he would use complex words. A writer who uses complex words is no different from one who uses easy words, both must know how to construct a sentence. Word usage is paramount, because our society likes simplicity, the economy of words is important when writing. Economise by all means, but don't take shortcuts. By that I mean choosing a simple sentence over a complex sentence and ensure it means what you intend it to mean.

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Thanks Cia. I found another Microsoft editing tool, it's called SmartEdit Lite and it is downloaded free of charge. Of course there is a comprehensive version that costs 59 dollars. But the Lite version works and I'm loving it.

 

SmartEdit Lite is a hateful tool. After entering your list of no-no words and popping one of my prompt stories into it, I sat back and winced and grimaced and... I think you may be aware of other, more colorful, adjectives I used to describe my dismay. From one who is learning the craft - It's freakin' hard, Dude!

 

This fella does appreciate the help, however much it may hurt and piss him off.

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SmartEdit Lite is a hateful tool. After entering your list of no-no words and popping one of my prompt stories into it, I sat back and winced and grimaced and... I think you may be aware of other, more colorful, adjectives I used to describe my dismay. From one who is learning the craft - It's freakin' hard, Dude! This fella does appreciate the help, however much it may hurt and piss him off.
Ron, I understand your frustration with SmartEdit lite. It really is up to you if you want to delete or change everything it puts out. Regard it as a tool that simply highlights the areas where change is needed, and use your own judgement. That is how I work with it. One thing it can't do is feel emotion in writing. Thst's our job. If it feels right, then keep tbe wordnor phrase, if it feels wrong, then discard it. Works for me.
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Yes, yes, I am aware that it is a tool to be used just as any other but it is something to be mindful of conscientiously. I do think that I am getting better about certain things and I feel that there is progress being made at my skill level. Curiously enough, the story I checked was an emotionally driven one and people seemed to be moved by it as was intended. Check on the emotional. I get that it wouldn't do to suck the life out of my writing but even so, I'm sure there needs to be balance here as well. I probably shouldn't rely too awful much on emotion and if it is an emotionally driven story, as my writing trends toward, give it a semblance of balance at the very least.

 

*sighs* Work in progress, my friend. Work in progress.

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