A number of tricky words lie in wait to trip up even the most diligent novelist. That list may include cliches, weak verbs of the to be family, overuse of certain conjunctions (and for example), and the list could go on and on.
For this article I’ll focus on the tricky word there. This word is wily and sneaky and will most assuredly reach out and bite an unsuspecting writer, irregardless of his or her grammar proficiency.
As I began writing the very first sentence in this article, what words might you guess popped into my head? If you answered, “There are a number of tricky words…” you are 100% correct. Give yourself a gold star.
Why did it pop into my mind? Because, quite obviously, that’s how we talk. But the spoken word and the written word are vastly different. Or should be. I’m not known for editing my words in casual conversation. (Although I have been guilty of editing others. Oh, for the needed restraint!)
Keeping Bad Company
Let’s take a closer look at there. In and of itself, the word there is not such a bad fellow. However, he keeps bad company. There likes to hang out with weak verbs such is, was, are, have been, had been. Being verbs are lifeless, colorless, and void of strong action.
There will be an auction at the old farmhouse later today.
Take a good look at this sentence. If there is edited out, his buddies will be must go with him. How might the entire sentence be edited? Try this:
The auction at the old farmhouse is scheduled for later today.
Ah, now weak verbs are gone and a stronger one – scheduled – replaced it. Good work!
Sometimes it requires a mere change of word sequence.
There is something strange happening here.
Something strange is happening here.
That was pretty simple, but it’s not always that easy. Some instances require more skill.
Time to Re-Word
There was a car wreck.
Eliminating there won’t work. Change in word sequence will not help either. It’s time to re-work and re-word completely.
Suddenly there was the sound of metal grinding against metal and glass shattering.
A little better, but not much. Notice we are still encumbered with “there was.” Suddenly isn’t that bad, but it can become a clutter word as well.
Let’s try again. It’s time to stop and think exactly what it is we are attempting to say. The professional novelist wants to do more than express a thought. The professional novelist wants to impress. Or said another way, the professional novelist wants to leave an impression on the reader. How about this one?
The two cars careened into one another as metal scraped against metal and shattered glass sprayed across the asphalt.
You may be thinking that we rid ourselves of a few weak verbs and wrote a long sentence. True. The point here is not word count; but word power.
There is a reason why I wanted to write this article. There were several reasons actually. There is a lesson contained within this article for each novelist (and all writers) to grasp. There’s a pressing need to be vigilant when writing.
I hope you’re getting the point! Smile.
Seriously, it’s the lazy novelist who does not take the time and effort to tend to editing details. It’s the lazy novelist who is not willing to go on a search-and-destroy mission when it comes to weak words such as there.
There now, that’s wasn’t so difficult, was it?
There, There Now – What’s Wrong With There