Sunday, May 20, 2018

Making Your Words Count

I tend to write in a fairly sparse style -- not a lot of description, to-the-point dialogue (unless a character is a chatterbox), and verbs that hold  their own.

In grade school, my seventh grade teacher told us to minimize 'helper verbs.' She was talking about "to be" and "to have," as I remember, and her words slid from my memory. I should have paid more attention. In trying to become a better editor of my own work, I've become a fiend about getting rid of forms of "to be," especially the word 'was.' 

"He was going to find out" becomes the more precise "He intended to find out." Better would be, "He intended to learn."
"She was looking for the lost dog" becomes "She searched for the lost dog."

In both of cases, you lose a helper verb and a gerund -- a twofer. I think my critique group may be tired of me making such suggestions.

Sometimes simple past tense works better. For example, in the second paragraph I said "she was talking about." Why not "she talked" about or "she discussed?"

I've never been much of a metaphor user. I figure if you can't describe something in and of itself, maybe the description needs to be reworked. If you listen to a lot of audio books, as I do, you notice authors who use metaphors a lot.
Grammarly defines a metaphor as "a figure of speech that describes  an object or action in a way that isn't literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison." 

Often metaphors use the words like or as. "The waves on the sand moved as fast as an ant carrying a treat." Equally unnecessary (to my thinking) is, "The hot sun shone like a ball of fire."

Metaphors can simply be used to call to mind something other than the item being described. One of my least-favorite metaphors is "milky white breasts," closely followed by "death's vise-like grip." I suppose both of those also qualify as cliches. 

I was going to mention the author I think most over-uses metaphors, but thought better of it. Who am I to criticize someone who sells millions of books? I love the author's plots.

So much to learn, so little time to edit...
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