(with apologies to Horatio Spafford)
I’ve been in the process of editing book 3 of The Askinar Towers trilogy and, like the other two books before it, I’ve discovered my obsession with using two, nay, three different words on a very frequent basis. It is never intentional I assure you, that is to say, it’s not a running gag or words that I feature in every novel. It just these little words that a lot of us use in day-to-day speaking, but become blatantly obvious when they are in dialog of a story.
Well, I can tell you this much…
The first word I use frequently is, ‘well’. Not to mean, how do you feel, but a way to begin the next bit of dialog. Here’s an example from book 3, Always Darkest Before The Dawn…
“Yes, thank you,” said Sara.
“Denbar, we need your help,” said Erika.
“Well, I might be able to help,” he said, sitting down with them. “What’s the problem?”
“Would you know a Tanith Pendragon?” asked Erika.
“Not only do I know her but I once traveled with her!” replied Denbar. “She’s a very good friend of mine, or…at least…she was. But that, of course, is history.”
“And how do we get to Port Karr?” asked Erika.
“Well, there are two ways to get there and it simply depends if you’re on the run from somebody or not,” said Denbar.
“We’re kind of on the run from somebody,” said Sara.
“I am,” said Proty. “You’re not.”
“As long as we stay together, Proteus, your enemy is our enemy,” said Sara.
“That’s pretty deep,” said Denbar. “But very true. I’ve been in many different adventuring groups and, as a group, you’re in it together.”
In these two separate paragraphs, I started certain lines of dialog with the word, ‘Well’. I think I had it in mind as a way of the character pausing to gather his thoughts, rather than using “Uh” or “Um”. But when it is used frequently, it gets to be a distraction. At least, for me it does and then I assume it will be the same for the reader.
I’ve been removing the majority of them as I edit, leaving in the occasional one as it seems to work for that particular situation. But it is not necessary for every sentence. If you have a similar problem, try saying the dialog out loud using the word, and then leaving the word out. Sometimes hearing it helps you to decide if it is necessary or not.
So this is what it’s all about.
The second word I’ve been using frequently is, ‘So’. And, I’ve noticed, that like the word, ‘Well’, I’ve been using it at the begging of the dialog. Here’s an another example from book 3…
“So why is Zahira hunting you, Proteus?” asked Sara.
“You can call me Proty. It’s easier to pronounce,” said Proteus and then he transformed into the likeness of their father again. “Zahira is a galactic bounty hunter and she was contracted to bring in me and my four ship mates. We were accused of extortion and bribery in the Antarus Galaxy. It her job to bring us back to stand trial.”
“You’re a criminal then?” asked Erika.
“They think we are, but it’s just a huge misunderstanding,” said Proty.
“So why not go back and stand trial and explain the misunderstanding,” suggested Sara.
“Because Antarus law does not understand ‘mistakes’,” he replied. “If I stand trial, I would then be put to death. Zahira has already captured my four shipmates and they have been put to death. If I can just get back to my home planet, we can contact Antarus from there and get the matter solved.”
“So that’s why you took the key,” said Erika. “You want to get home as bad as we do.”
In this paragraph, I’ve used it three times! For some reason, I can’t see it when I’m first writing the story and, sometimes, when I go through and edit it the first couple of times. Again, this constant use of the word gets to be annoying, for me that is, and that’s why I need to find a better word to use in its place or just avoid it altogether.
Plus, if you act now…
A third word I’ve noticed myself using a lot is the word, ‘Plus’. It’s shorter than the the phrase, ‘In addition’ but again, it’s not always necessary. Here’s yet another example from book 3…
As they arrived at the lodge, the girls were listening intently to Dirk’s stories. He had accomplished a lot since becoming the local hero.
“With your skills,” said Erika, “you should be helping larger towns.”
“I agree with you there,” said Dirk, “but the reason I stay with the small towns and villages, is to prevent people like Orlando to come in and prey on their money. That’s why I simply ask for a meal and a place to sleep. Plus, I’d rather see them spend their hard earned money on supplies, tools, and seeds for crops.” He knocked on the door.
You will notice that it is not necessary for this sentence. All three of these words can be eliminated from most, if not all, of your dialog and no one will miss them. Sometimes these words can disrupt the flow of thought if they are in middle of a conversation.
Beware the so-called editor named, Spell check.
Since we’re on the subject of editing in this article, I want to warn you about relying on the spellchecker as an editor for your story. All too often you’ll be writing along and you’ll spell a word properly but it isn’t the word you’re actually wanting in the sentence. If you don’t see the squiggly red line, you assume that there’s nothing wrong with the sentence and will proceed to the next section.
I don’t know if some programs come with autocorrect in their editing programs or what, but when I see the wrong word, although spelled correctly, I scratched my head and wonder why this wasn’t caught by the author, editor, or a beta reader. I have two examples from a book I’m currently reading called Death Has a Daughter by Candice Burnett.
The first one comes from Chapter 6…
The blonde Guardian smiles as he congratulated his other brothers and pulled pieces of the truck’s grill out of his skin.
My mouth began to water and a shiver went up my spine as I watched him laughing with his colleges at this brush with death.
In the second sentence, the word ‘colleges’ should be ‘colleagues’, as she is referring to a group of people whom she referred to as ‘brothers’ in the first sentence.
The second one is found in Chapter 8…
Two of the last three Guardians fell as a Demon came down like a Toronto from the sky onto them.
Here, the word ‘Toronto’ should be ‘tornado’. Because it is capitalized like the proper name of the country, this is why I’m thinking there’s autocorrect in the programming. Both examples could have been avoided had a beta reader been used to help find mistakes like this. And, this is the reason why you don’t want to rely solely on Spell check or yourself to edit your own manuscript. Always have a second pair of eyes help you with it.
I am in no way an expert on editing manuscripts, but from these examples, you can tell that I am paying more attention to my own work as well as others. I have picked up some editing tips from fellow writers and it has improved my writing and editing greatly. If you are in need of an editor, please comment below and I can recommend some to you. Otherwise, share with me some problems you are having with frequent words and what you have done with them.