Saturday, September 14, 2019

My thoughts on words ~ by Gerald Guy

For authors, words can be plentiful and expensive. The intent is to entertain and captivate, but each touch of the keyboard drives costs up. The more words you use, the more pages are required to contain them. The more pages in your novel, the higher the cost of publishing. If you are an independent author, like me, saving pennies wherever possible is a must. The first place to look for savings is among the pesky letters and words that make up your manuscript.

So, here are some things I regularly do to clean up my own copy or the manuscripts I have been asked to edit.

THAT may be the most overused word in American language. We throw the word around like unwanted pennies on a nightstand. Don’t do the same thing with your manuscript.
EXAMPLE: Jack said that he was going to go to the store. The sentence reads perfectly fine when the word is removed.
So, before I release any manuscript, I do a search for every instance the word is used and decide if it is needed.

TOWARD or TOWARDS is a repeated debate I have with authors. Here is the simple take on it, based on “The Chicago Manual of Style.” Toward and its sibling, backward, are used without the “s” when writing for American audiences. It is perfectly appropriate to use the “s” if writing for British readers. Go figure.
It is used incorrectly so frequently, it has become a pet peeve.  I recently was reading a novel in which James stepped backwards towards his wife. I must admit, my heart rate skyrocketed.
I generally do a search and replace just to make sure I don’t miss one. It is not unusual to see “towards” repeated one hundred times or more in a manuscript. If authors remove the letter “s” one hundred times, it would save space equivalent to this sentence.

THE SEMICOLON is not used as frequently today as in literary works of the past. Still, it remains a useful way of connecting continuing action or thoughts. It is best used to connect compound sentences without using a conjunction.
EXAMPLE: The sheriff ripped the wanted poster from the wall; he hung a bulletin of Jesse James in its place.
Keep in mind, if you are uncertain of how to use the semicolon, don’t. Most compound sentences can become two sentences and remain grammatically correct and easy to read.

VERBS are the driving force behind the action taking place in your novel. They are more important than those troublesome adjectives so many of us love. Make them vibrant, shocking. descriptive and impactful.
EXAMPLES: Fall or tumble, raced or charged, shouted or chastised.
Verbs come in three tenses: past, present, and future. The past is used to describe things that have already happened. The present tense is used to describe things that are happening right now, or things that are continuous. The future tense describes things that have yet to happen. Be discriminant in how you use them.
If you a writing in the first-person, the present tense is acceptable. Most authors opt for the past tense. Rarely should the two intermarry.

While I have you thinking about verbs, we should mention participles. I try to eliminate them whenever possible and stick to the preferred past tense. For example: She sprinted to catch her friends. – NOT-- She was sprinting to catch her friends.

PLEONASM: What is that you ask? It is redundancies that can make your writing less than profession. I’m referring to phrases that repeat themselves: “12 midnight,” “sat down,” “climbed up,” or “I saw it with my own eyes.” Simply edit them out of your manuscript to tighten things up. It will please your readers and your editor.

Finally, while discussing redundancies, I’d like to say a word about metaphors and similes. Readers love them. Be advised, they become stale and tired if used more than once or twice in a manuscript. So, I urge you to be creative. Avoid clich├ęs and have fun with your descriptive analogies. That would make me happier than a rubber-nosed woodpecker in a petrified forest.

(Gerald L. Guy is an independent author and editor, who has published ten novels across several genre. You can learn more about his titles at his website --

Listen to Gerald Guy's podcast here. 

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