Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

5 Clunkers to Eliminate in your Writing

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 02•19

The first thing I notice when reading an opening paragraph is if a writer uses precise, fresh language. In case you’re having problems seeing your dull choices or bloopers here are some you can fix or avoid:

  1. Said exclamations: Today’s readers are sophisticated and understand when characters are talking and that at times the character’s voices and emotions change. The notion is the ‘he said, she said’ parts of fiction appear invisible. Readers understand that a character might sound shrill by the circumstances and dialogue spoken so you don’t need to proclaim, Mary Ellen shrieked shrilly. Never write Jason emoted, pleaded, bantered, snarked, smirked, blasted, bleated, peeped,groused. Now occasionally in the midst of a horror story you might want to underline how terrified a character is, but consider dabbing these attributions in only for the most terrifying or surprised moments.
  2. Clichés.  Oh how, I hate thee. Eliminate all your I took a deep breaths. Ditto for eyes widened, out of the corner of my eye, jaw dropped, raven locks, and steely blue eyes. Then there is:  Each and every, knife to my heart, piece of cake, fire in the belly, he/she took my breath away. And before you write about your characters staring into each other’s eyes, think about how often it happens in real life and how often it happens in your stories.
  3. Mind matters, especially in first person. You don’t need to report on how the character is reviewing things in his/her mind because this distances the reader and reminds her there is a narrator instead of the reader living amid the story world. So eliminate ‘mind raced‘ ‘thoughts raced‘ ‘mind’s eye‘ (a truly lame term), and ‘searching her mind.
  4. I saw. If you’re writing in close first person you don’t need the I saw or I looked part of the sentence. Example: I saw ahead of me three leprechauns frolicking merrily in the grass. Instead: Ahead three leprechauns frolicked merrily in the grass. Why? The reader wants to pretend that he or she is spotting the leprechauns along with the character. Also describing the leprechauns implies the narrator or character is seeing or observing. No need to state it.
  5. Prepositional phrases. Prepositions are the carbohydrates of language. Of course we need them for clarity, but use with care. Instead of book of poetry, poetry book. Instead of tower of flames, towering flames.

So here’s the trick: Don’t always use the first word or phrase that pops into your head because  you might be using rusty, old clichés. Or fix these dullards when you edit. Like stock still, fast asleep, choking back tears, stirred up a hornet’s nest, did a double take, under the radar, and never in her wildest dreams.

Keep writing, keep dream, have heart

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