More Words to Lose
Have you ever really listened to people talking? We writers should do that all the time. It’s one of the reasons we love to people watch, not to eavesdrop but to learn about fascinating accents, jargon and colloquialisms that could add zing to the characters in our fiction.
In becoming aware of how people talk, on a daily basis I hear words and phrases that make me cringe. Call me a purest. Call me obsessive compulsive. I shake my head when I hear anyone say, “I told him, I said…” What is the purpose of being redundant? “I told him” and “I said” mean exactly the same thing.
“I told him, I said, be careful.”
“She told me, she said she didn’t like my cooking.”
I sigh when I hear a person saying “basically” before starting each new sentence they speak.
“Basically, what you need to know is where to start.”
“Basically, the mystery started with a nondescript clue.”
As you can see in the above two examples, the sentences do not need the word basically at all.
Dislikes such as these are at the top of my list to get hit with the delete button in my compositions.
Language takes on a different aura in dialogue if you have established that one of your characters actually speaks this way: “Basically, ma’am, I’m here to learn the truth and that’s all.” Still, it would be very off-putting to the reader if your character started all or lots of his dialogue with that dreaded word. Correctly portrayed, you would have set up the character’s speaking personality as, perhaps, slow and as being a methodical thinker and that one word used once or twice would then enhance his speech mannerisms.
However, my writing is not yet perfect either. I must continually be vigilant for sentence starters like: “She thought….” or “He said….”
She thought she wanted to go along.
He said he didn’t want to go.
When writing from the main character’s point of view, the reader will be in that character’s mind, seeing the story action from his or her point of view. The reader will be thinking the character’s thoughts. At least that’s what happens if our writing is good enough to draw the reader in. Starting sentences with phrases like “She thought” is, again, redundant. All a writer need do is state the character’s thought: She wanted to go along. Immediately, we feel or sense the character’s desire without being told it’s a thought.
Deleting unnecessary words and phrases helps greatly when word count matters and it really does, not to mention cleaning up a manuscript.
If in a case like “He said…,” instead of saying “He said he didn’t want to go along,” put what the character said in actual dialogue: “I want to go too,” he said. That’s unless you’re relating a past experience. Even then, you would simply say: He wanted to go along.
Any time you catch yourself telling what this or that character said, most of the time what the character said should be put in dialogue, instead of the writer “second-hand” telling the reader what was spoken.
I continue to be amazed at how people in my own circle of friends and family use these incorrect phrases. But then, they are not writers who need be astute at the verbiage they commit into stories. They are just being themselves, and that’s just fine with me. They give me a lot to think about and I am grateful that they can just be themselves with me and not worry that I am going to correct their every spoken word.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.