Craft

Don’t Make Your Readers Whack Through Weasel Words

Since I waxed eloquently about weasel words last week, I just really thought I should share this very astonishing post. Truly it is just so important that authors really strive to write tightly so that the reader doesn’t just close the book because the writer uses, like, too many weasel words.

As we survey various techniques to the establishment of accomplished prose, we are obliged to contemplate the aphorism that there is no requirement to employ a ten-dollar phrase when a five-cent expression will suffice. What do you opine? Does broad lexis succor prose? Do you discover your reading gratification to be enhanced by immense libretti, or do you favor unpretentious communication?

“I enjoy the occasional need to employ a thesaurus,” Midori said candidly. She changed the topic. “I’m wondering about descriptor tags,” she mused curiously.

“I don’t know,” Knox responded thoughtfully. “Do you really believe they add to the dialogue?” he asked sardonically.

“Maybe?” she wondered doubtfully.

“I would venture a guess that the dialogue itself would give the reader insight as to the character’s motives for speaking,” he speculated with no small degree of self-satisfaction.

“Our readers display wit and insight,” Midori declared. “I’ll wager that they will share with us some of their writing pet peeves.”

“Indeed,” Knox concurred. “We can depend upon their brilliance.”

“Yes!” Midori nodded. “Let’s see what they say.”

Your Turn:

What are your writing pet peeves? Midori and Knox want to know!

 

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Letting Go of Your Babies

One of the worst mistakes writers can make is being too possessive of their words. They fight for each adjective, adverb, and conversation tag.

My early writing suffered from too many words. I once wrote an artist didn’t “really” understand the difficulties of making a living in his profession. The editor kindly cut all instances of “really,” “just,” “so,” “very,” and other weak words experienced editors call “weasel” words.

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Floating … Floating … Gone …

Writers conferences and blogs talk about this topic often so I don’t pretend to be breaking new ground with this post. Yet I still see some floating body parts and cliches creep into otherwise great stories. No, I don’t mean murder mysteries depicting a stray arm floating in a river. I mean much gentler fare.

Yes, floating body parts offer the reader — and writer — shortcuts. But relying on them as description in narrative doesn’t challenge anyone’s imagination.

Rolling eyes

The offender I see most often is:

“She rolled her eyes.”

Yes, we all know this means that her eyes went from the ceiling and back. No, wait a minute. Her eyes didn’t go the ceiling and back. Her gaze went to the ceiling and back. See the difference? No pun intended.

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Tag, You’re It!

One of the most common habits I see burdening stories is overemphasis on conversational tags, which goes hand in hand with not making good use of action tags. Here’s an example I just made up:

“No,” she exclaimed. She looked at the the pot of stew bubbling the stove and saw red juice splattering. She began to stir.

Unable to resist multitasking, I demonstrated several bad habits in the above sample of poor writing.

First, punctuation. When a character exclaims, use an exclamation point.

“No!”

“She exclaimed” adds no new information unless you need to designate a character from several so in almost every case, omit it. Same can be said for tags such as “said” and “asked.” In fact, “asked” accomplishes nothing because the question mark says it all.

Any tag should reflect what the character is saying. “He’s a slippery snake,” she hissed, trumps, “What a viper,” she hissed. If in doubt, entertain the office cat. Read sentences aloud to make sure the tag works.

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C.S. Lewis on Writing

by Steve Laube

On June 26, 1956, C.S. Lewis replied to letter from an American girl named Joan with advice on writing:

Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
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It’s All About the Plot

Last week we discussed characters portrayed in a sympathetic light. Another type of plot relies less on the character being sympathetic, but the reader is engaged because the plot itself is intriguing enough to keep reading. For instance, books can: Solve a murder. Some authors make plenty of money with …

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Writing Sympathetic Characters

Have you ever stopped reading a novel because you didn’t like or weren’t interested in the characters or you couldn’t muster enough caring about them to stick with them for 300 pages? Here are a few tips to try to keep this reaction from happening to your readers: 1. Portray …

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Five Words to Strike from Your Fiction

Maybe you’ve heard of James A. Michener. He wrote some books. And he once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” Rewriting is the better part of writing, and deleting words (or “killing all your little darlings,” as Faulkner put it) is a key part …

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Real vs. Fictitious Settings

Today’s guest post is from our client Mindy Obenhaus. She is a three-time Carol Award nominee who writes contemporary romance. Mindy is passionate about touching readers with biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren at …

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Tips on Writing a Novella

Today’s guest post is written by one of our clients, Lynn A. Coleman (www.lynncoleman.com). She is the founder of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), as well as the author of more than 50 novels and novellas. She lives with her husband of 45 years, who is the lead pastor of a …

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