Finding Weeds in Your Word Garden

 

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Photo by Charles Huff

How many of you love gardening? Seeing your landscape creation take shape, watching the bulbs you painstakingly planted bloom in glorious, magnificent colors. Now, how many of you love weeding?  Getting down on hands and knees and ripping out those menacing thistles, dandelions, grass, stray saplings, and (if you have a neighbor who feeds squirrels) corn stalks. Well, if we were in a gardeners class, I’d be the one hiding behind the big kid, hoping to avoid getting volunteered.

 

 

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Photo by Charles Huff

I love a beautiful garden but hate, HATE weeding! The whole process makes my arms and shoulders ache and my fingernails acquire black French tips just thinking about it. Needless to say, my yard gets pretty weedy before it is attended to. Over the years, my landscaping has become pretty Spartan.

 

A writer’s garden of words needs weeding, and that can become a pretty daunting task, too. Especially for the novice. It’s like sending a four-year-old into your flower beds to weed. They know not what to pull so they remove a lot of healthy foliage. If her eyes are green, don’t keep telling me her eyes are green. He gazed into her green eyes. Or, Her green eyes snapped. Maybe those eyes blaze like an emerald when she’s angry. Still green but more exciting.  Her pupils grew large when the villain approached. See what I’m getting at?

Does your hero fist his hands a lot? Or run them through his hair? (Mine sure did.)  Flex fingers, white knuckles, clenched-fisted. Find more interesting ways to refer to physical action.

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Some varieties of flowers come in different sizes. Daisies can be small, tall, bushes and a myriad of colors. Daisies are my favorite flower, but I would not want my whole yard covered in them. Neither does your reader want to read the same word over and over again. Rather than your hero breathing try panting, gasping or straining. His breathing might be thready, heavy, faint or gulping. You might write:

The thready sound of air passed through his teeth.

A whisper of air tickled her neck.

My editor found a lot of sipping going on in my novel. So we had to weed those sips out. My characters held the mug to their lips. Stirred the content. She gazed over the cup. Gulped, swallowed, savored and drank.

Don’t walk across the room. Stride, skip, stomp, waltz, plod or any other action word.

We use lots of was, were, is, are in our writing. She was sad might transform to sadness gripped her. If it gripped her heart in one paragraph be sure it travels to her toes or spills out her eyes later.

Thistles end up in my yard and flowerbeds because of the Cardinal bird feeders in the neighborhood. When you think you’ve got them all, more pop up. Common words can become thistles. Just, only, have just, but, because, really, very and lots of -ly words.

 

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Photo By Charles Huff

 

When a thistle blooms, it is lovely. It’s the national flower of Scotland.  Most Americans don’t grow them intentionally. They are prickly and a nuisance when they pop up in random places. Do you recall listening to a speech sprinkled with the words: you know? Or have a friend end every sentence with –just saying. Make sure your word garden is free of those.

Below is a list of words to weed from the landscape of your novel. Words that distract the reader. The passive word that slows the action. Perhaps a favorite go-to word planted between awesome words causing the scenes to droop. These words distract the reader from the beauty of the overall work.

 

 

It is recommended by most authors I know to start your own list of words you habitually plant in your projects.  Refer to your list when you begin editing. Get out your weeding tools and eliminate the majority of them. Thin others. Not every was is unneeded and an occasional just is just fine.  Keep the list handy because those little buggers are going to reappear time and time again. And you will probably add to your list when you notice your replacement words become repetitive.

What are some favorite words you use in excess in your writing?

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