Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Beginning Writers: Too Much Of One Thing

(reprinted from the Greenhouse on The Wild Rose Press website)

Too much of a good thing….Isn’t
By Tiffany Roan, Editor The Wild Rose Press

We all know the saying: “You CAN have too much of a good thing.” It holds true in everyday life – a slice of chocolate cake is delicious, but the whole thing will leave you with a tummy ache (not to mention a few extra pounds). It’s even more true in the world of writing. Just last week I pulled out one of my old manuscripts with intentions of polishing it up for submission. As I began to read, I cringed inside. It was riddled with “-ing” words, and on the first page alone my heroine had gasped, clucked, beseeched, huffed, and pouted in her dialogue tags. We each have our own personal demons – the words (or word types) that we overuse – but today I’m going to discuss some of the most common ones.

“-Ing” words: Words that end with “-ing” are acceptable when used in moderation, but too many of them can make a manuscript sound weak. It’s often easy to replace “-ing” words with an action verb. Here’s an example based on a passage I recently read in one of my student’s papers:

Running for the door and shoving me out of the way, Sarah was screaming at the fleeing figure to bring back her purse.

Here’s a much more direct way to convey the same information:

Sarah ran for the door and shoved me out of the way. “Come back with my purse!” she screamed at the fleeing figure.

“-Ly” words: Adverbs as a whole are often unnecessary in a manuscript. The easiest way to spot them is to look for words that end in “-ly.” This includes words like quickly, steadily, hotly, pleasantly, quizzically, etc. Other common overused adverbs include often, very, and while.

“That”: Most of the time “that” is unnecessary in a sentence and just bogs it down. For example:
She couldn’t believe that she was the first place winner.

should be written:

She couldn’t believe she won first place.

Dialogue tags: Dialogue tags are tricky. On one hand, it gets boring to constantly read, “he said, she said, they said, we said…” On the other hand, interesting dialogue tags can be a distraction when they are overused. There are only so many times in one conversation that your characters need to huff, screech, snort, laugh, and plead. Some writers consider “said” to be an invisible tag. This means the reader’s eyes go right over it, and it doesn’t break up the continuity of the dialogue. So, though you may need to throw in the interesting dialogue tag now and then, try not to overuse them! One great trick is to remove dialogue tags completely from some of your sentences. Instead of saying:

“I give up!” she cried as she stormed out of the room.


“I give up!” She stormed out of the room.

These are just a few of the most common overused writing conventions. You may do all of these, or you may have your own “pet word” that shows up again and again in your writing. It’s time to put your manuscript on a diet. Get out a pack of highlighters and carefully read over your manuscript. Every time you come upon one of these errors, highlight it. I like to use a different color for each type of error (-ing words in one color, dialogue tags in another, etc.). Then go back and see if there’s something else you could use to spice up your writing. You don’t have to get rid of all of them, but you should be able to eliminate the majority. Then sit back and admire your skinny new manuscript! 

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