By Bonnie Stanard
Some words are tricky. They delude you into thinking you’re making a concept stronger, but their “help” is unneeded and unwanted. Really is one of those. Very, to name another. Completely. If I’m describing a character as thin, and I want to stress the image, how does really thin compare to gaunt? Or really ugly with hideous. The website Proofreading Services provides alternatives for very.
“Then her lovely voice suddenly became even more beautiful.” Four words in that sentence make me cringe. They’re die-hard duds. Then and suddenly only pretend to have meaning. Who needs the categorical then? Given a linear past tense, everything that happens, happens then. As for suddenly, if a man falls off a bridge, we know it is sudden. Or if a bat flies out of the rafters. If we have to write suddenly, the rest of the sentence isn’t working. Lovely and beautiful are mundane floozies, and if you use them, you’ll fall into the same category.
It was a revelation when I discovered how many times I wrote the word begin (began). I’ve come to realize it is dead weight to the development of either plot or character. George begins to think about leaving his wife? Or a snake begins to traverse the road? Get to the point: George thinks...a snake traverses. There are few times when begin earns a right to be. Start is in the same category.
I’m not the only writer to be taken for a ride by would. Many a published novel has paragraphs muddied by this word—he would train his hound, I would pack a lunch, we would go hunting. Would is a lazy half-breed that supplants a pure breed—past tense. Next time you’re tempted to write would, try simple past tense.
Have you ever reached the point you want to scream, “OMG, not another said!”? When writing dialogue, some writers resort to even worse alternatives, such as asked, confessed, added, insisted, etc. Instead of he said-she said, denote a speaker with action tags. What are the characters doing as they talk? See examples on Diane Urban’s blog .
When a person says forever, much less writes it, I suspect there’s a small brain in his head. It bewilders me to see on our postage stamps the caption “USA Forever.” If you want to read a poem that puts forever in perspective, take a look at “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelly.
The following are words I personally dislike. Nothing wrong with them and they’re commonly used by pundits. However, I suggest they cast aspersions on the person using them. Here’s my take: the person using empower is dealing from a weak position; if he uses suffuse he wants you to know he reads poetry; if he says “I bonded with my coworkers,” he avoids emotion and doesn’t know it.
Obviously there are times when these words earn the right to be used. But I put them through the third degree first.