Friday, August 6, 2010

My Top Ten Demons

It occurred to me, while beginning the first editing pass for one of my chapters, that I have ten words I regularly scan for because I tend to overuse them.  Any group of ten words is a potential Top Ten List.   When they're connected to writing, blogging about it may help somebody else, so here I go.  These are mostly in order of which ones are overused most often; of course that changes somewhat from chapter to chapter.
  • was
  • were
  • went
  • look
  • come
  • came
  • move
  • would
  • could
  • should
You could legitimately ask why I include 'come' and 'came' separately.  For me, those words crop up differently and I've found it's better to scan for each one.  For 'look' and 'move', the past tenses are picked up by my word processor's Find feature during the same pass. 

I make one Find pass for each word.  For every instance of those words, I change the color.  'Was' is a dark blue, 'were' is teal, and so on.  After doing a Find for each word, I can then scan the document to see how often each color shows up. 

I have been quite shocked to see how much dark blue there is.  My Was Demon is one I have an uneasy relationship with.  You need 'was' sometimes; there's no getting around that.  It's a verb, a lot of sentences need verbs, sometimes it's the one that does the job best.  But wow, it is so easy to 'was' everything! 

My WIP puts me in an interesting place with overused words.  My character Neal started the story with minimal formal education; his English has largely been picked up from his street gang pals and others who live on the fringes of that turf.  He's strong with Spanish, but it's mostly slangy and often vulgar.  In order to show how his language - spoken and in thought - changes during the story, I have to use simple constructions, wrong grammar, cliches and overused words.  Frankly, it's like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard, but it's also an interesting challenge.

I always smile mentally when I switch to Sandy's Point Of View, because he's well enough educated - and well enough connected - to use better English.  At the point in my WIP I'm currently fighting with - er, editing, Neal's language has been changing, improving.  Rather than simply making things easier for me because of that, it's harder.  I have to think more than I used to about his sentences.  Exactly which words should go?  Would that phrase be something he'd be likely to keep using for a while?  How many 'was'es and 'were'es is it logical for him to still be using?

When talking about these tribulations with my critters, I often say I walk a tightrope with Neal's language, and it's true.  I fall off sometimes.  I don't always land in the net and I've got some healed breaks to show for it.  But I consider those trophies for having done a lot of work with words.  I've got a long way to go and I'll fall off again.  I'll just climb back up on my pile of overused words :)

1 comment:

  1. I have sooo much trouble with those "was"s, and the "could"s and "would"s too. CC has really helped me start catching those, but I see how using Word's capabilities will be very helpful in editing :) Like your blog, by the way. I'm just getting rolling with mine.