Education

Simple Word Substitutions That Can Dramatically Improve The Narrative Of A Novel

Writers are always seeking ways to separate themselves from the pack. Today, elevating oneself is not only desirable but a necessity if an author is to have any hope of becoming published for the first time by a major house. The questions is, how?
Sometimes the Simplest Words and Phrases Can Make a Substantial Difference
A talented line editor who is an affiliate of mine worked through one of my novels recently and made several suggestions that I feel are worth repeating. These modifications provided the theme for this article, and involved “how” and “of,” along with the need for consistency when using words such as “toward” and “among.”
Determine the Instances When “the way” can be Substituted for “how”
There are instances when two words are preferable to one, and this often applies when “the way” is substituted for “how.” Here are two examples and their counterparts: Can you tell me how Mr. Jones was acting differently during the past two weeks? Can you tell me the way Mr. Jones was acting differently during the past two weeks? I liked how the thin lines along her mouth depicted anything but age. I liked the way the thin lines along her mouth depicted anything but age. In the second example in particular, “the way” adds allure to an otherwise bland run.
“Of” can be Problematic When it’s Superfluous
The word “of” is being accepted almost to the point of idiom in sentences like this: “He spoke in as calm of a tone as he could.” The correct syntax should read: “He spoke in as calm a tone as he could.” Or this: “I never realized how good of a friend he had become,” which should read: “I never realized how good a friend he had become.”
“Toward” and “Among”
There are indeed times when “towards” sounds better than “toward” and “amongst” has a better ring to it than “among,” but consistency is important. Thank goodness that checking for consistency is now an easy task as a result of the “Find and Replace” button in almost all word-processing programs.
Then there is “Over”
Long ago I broke the habit of using “over” when “during” was correct, but I still find myself using “over” when “more than,” “longer than,” “greater than,” etc., are better choices–if not proper grammar–in many instances. In defining periods of time, for example, it’s desirable to write that something took more than an hour rather than something took over an hour. Likewise, longer than a month should be written instead of over a month, just as greater (or more) than a mile is correct and over a mile is not.
Don’t Stop with these Examples
In this day and age, every possible opportunity must be exploited to gain an edge, and sometimes even the subtlest of nuances can enable a text to illustrate accomplished writing and enable its author to take a major step in the right direction. And while there are indeed a great many more examples of lazy rhetoric than what I mentioned in this article, paying attention to just the few words and phrases I’ve listed can make a major impression on an agent, publisher–and reader.

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