Fire up your word processor, open your manuscript, key in ctrl+f, and get ready to type the following words in the Find what: box. You're going hunting for opportunities to make your narrative stronger and sharper.
Let's start with half a word. Inging, over-use of the present participle, frequently slows pace and mushes meaning. More often than not, "ings" should be "eds" for crisp writing.
For example, "She was polishing her glasses as she searched for the right words." I think this is passive and slow to create a picture in the reader's mind.
How much more to the point and quicker to create a picture is "She polished her glasses as she searched for the right words."
Examples from samples I've received:
The rain was turning into snow as they drove. (turned)
Dylan was circling the cabin. (circled)
Joanne was hoping that she would get to see her family skiing. (hoped, ski)
Bob was getting more and more nervous. (grew)
"No," the heavy woman said, rummaging through the shopping bag she was carrying. (carried)
Lulu was feeling tipsy. (felt)
There are times, though, when "ing" (for me) helps convey an ongoing process. For example, consider "Thinking of his face, she hesitated." versus "She thought of his face and hesitated." For me the first version puts a thoughtful look on the character's face and creates a pause in whatever she's doing, and the second version is just action.
A waste word, a verbal habit something like the "uh" many people use in speech. A few examples (I almost said "some," but that was so vague); see how cutting the "somes" costs nothing yet makes the sentence crisper.
Married women always wore
somebangles around both their wrists.
Do you have
He had been transferred to
somemenial department post for some(a bad) decision he had made.
My big band attained
somemodest local fame and national press.
somemovement as the crocodiles attempted to steer clear.
somepacking to do.
Sometantalizing smells were wafting towards them from across the river. (and let's change were wafting to wafted)
He had to have
somenew tires installed.
Another waste word (interestingly, some samples never had this word while others had multiple usage).
William was one of
very(the) few who knew. (not needed)
I want the
verybest students. (redundant-best is best)
Mr. Simpson has been
veryeager to meet you. (there are no degrees of eagerness --redundant)
. . .in the
verycoldest part of winter. (redundant-coldest is coldest)
veryhungry. (starving or famished are more specific, more effective)
During lunch she becomes
veryquiet. (redundant-quiet is quiet)
started and began
Usually associated with ings, these words lead to flabby verbs. More examples from samples:
Billy started snickering. (snickered)
Students shot from their seats and started to move to the rhythm. (moved, danced)
Slowly, she started unzipping the front of her graduation gown. (unzipped)
Her mini-dog started yapping at them. (yapped)
He started swaying to and fro and humming his rendition of Silent Night. (swayed, hummed)
Sheila started walking toward their waiting vehicle. (walked)
Arnold returned to his computer and began fiddling with the mouse. (fiddled)
Roger began to scream. (screamed)
His thoughts began to grow less precise. (grew)
In my first novel a reader picked up on a habit I had of overusing "of" as in, "He emptied his pot of coffee." I used Search to hunt for "of" and found many that I could change to either a possessive or use an adjective, i.e. "He emptied his coffee pot." This may seem mindlessly simple to you, but I found lots of places to tighten my narrative, which helped with pace and clarity.
This is an example of improper usage. Many writers use "eyes" when what they really mean is gaze, or glance, or stare. Some examples in which I take the usage to the next logical step.
Her eyes were on the floor. (Luckily, no one stepped on them.)
His blue eyes bored into her. (And then blood gushed from the two holes in her belly.)
She felt the woman's eyes searching for her. (It tickled when they slid across her face.)
His tired eyes land on me as he glances around the room. (Then they drop to the floor and bounce across the room.)
My eyes follow the headlights. (I ignore the wrenching pain when they leave their sockets.)
Roger kept his eyes on the road. (He realized his mistake when the ice cream truck ran over them.)
Okay, now having reminded myself of these, I have to go searching my own stuff.
If I can help with a question about writing, email me and I'll apply a beady eye. Tell me if I can share it in a post or if you want a private consultation.
© Ray Rhamey 2004