Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Word Choice?

What did writers do before word processing? For one, we repeated ourselves a lot more. As I revise my book I am discovering my crutch words, how I repeat not just in a sentence or in a paragraph (typo) but over the course of 300 pages (tic). I couldn’t finish Anne Rice due to her abuse of the phrase “preternatural skin.” I mean, I wasn’t looking for much, just some vampire paperback action. But even so, I got so irritated I couldn’t read. I’m determined to avoid a similar mistake.

Enter the "Find" tool, which let me know how fond I am of "documenting." I love "to document." Tasks are "documented." So are people. I even found a "documented are," the passive voice version creating a double faux pas. What's eerie is that I've written these chapters at different times over the past four years. My writing might have changed but the obsession with documenting remaints.

I know some of my crutches even as I type them. I have banned myself from the phrase "truth be told" even I have the impulse to start every third sentence this way. I lean on "now," "then" and "so" as (lame) transitions. I'll allow myself this indulgence once in a while, but I try to be sparing.

"Find" next informed me I overuse the phrase "I confess."

"Difficult" was the next to go. Originally I was searching for the word "cult," to make sure I didn't make the same Yearning for Zion joke twice. "Difficult" turned up about every fifth page. It was like finding out one in five people is an alien.

And I have a problem with inserting too many clever, quippy similes, which are like a stinky cheese——delightful in small doses, but if overindulged, impact the bowels.

Then there's when a writer uses the "only once per novel word" twice. For instance, you only get to describe a character's neck as resembling a puggaree once. A favorite writer of mine had this sort of error in her latest novel, and I gasped as if she had just stepped up to accept a PEN Faulkner in a menstrual stained skirt. Where was the editor?

Alas, It's commonly mourned how the days of Maxwell Perkins level editing are long gone. Every time someone reads my book they catch something. But I'm the final gatekeeper. Just because the editor signs off doesn't mean I should


ann said...

are you just guessing which words are probably overused and then doing find, or is word telling you what words appear a lot? that would be a handy feature.

also i want to know which author/novel you're referring to. you can tell me in secret. i have a guess.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

I read, and then I'll get this feeling. So I use "find" just to see. Today's word was "greet." I wonder if it would even be noticeable to the outside reader. But I feel as though I'm pushing to reach for the best word, versus the handy word.