If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you may feel it’s a bit schizophrenic: one day geared to readers, another day to writers, another day to my Aunt Irene. But I’m going to write about what interests me, so you’ll never know what you’ll find. (Ah, Forrest and his box of chocolates!) But I am going to try to post a writing tip of the month.
My “tip of the month” for this month is one that can be magically accomplished with a word processor’s global search-and-replace function. It’s something I always do after the first draft and before delving into the second pass—I simply look for my “pet” words and tell the computer to find and replace them with the same word in all caps. Then, as I work through the second draft, the word springs to my attention and I am able to replace, remove, or retain it.
The words in my search list? They vary from manuscript to manuscript, but a few are always at the top of the list: was and were. I’ve been accused of being an “anti-wuzian,” but was and were often signal passive voice, and there’s no reason to be passive when active is but another thought away.
After hitting the big two, I go on to search and replace every had in all caps. Two caveats about had: first, a flurry of them in one or two paragraphs almost always indicates a “telling” episode—fine if it’s a quick recounting, horrible if it should be a fully-recounted scene and shown, not told. Second, if you are flashing back to a quick recollection, only two hads are necessary—the first to unlock the door and take the reader back, the second to bring him back to the present. Any other hads can usually be deleted.
Other words on my pet peeves list: rather, suddenly, very, that. There are others, but this list will vary with each writer.
Finally, I look for pet phrases that apply to each particular book. Once, when I’d finished a macho book filled with guns and wars, I realized that every time a character picked up a machine gun, he or she “slammed the magazine home.” Ugh. Once was enough. I’ve had hard drives “whirr” every time someone sits down at a computer keyboard, and characters lift a brow every ten seconds. The eyebrow calisthenics have to go!