It’s All About the Words: The Right Words.

When you begin writing your manuscript, the most important thing is to actually write it. Finish it. Once it’s done, worry about this stuff:

Word and phrase repetition can kill a manuscript. How many times have you read a story and thought, “geez, that author really likes that word!” This itself can make a reader put a book down.

Phrase or scene repetition can be even worse. Have you ever read a book and started flipping pages, rather than read what you’ve already been told, or at least got a grasp on?

Remember this: readers are not stupid. You do not have to dumb down your work for them, and if you’ve written a scene clearly enough the first time, the reader will be right there with you. There’s no reason to repeat/mention portions of the scene again. Not that you can’t make reference to them, ie “she thought back to the conversation at the garage” but to actually go back into the wording of the conversation at the garage is unnecessary. The simple reminder will be enough for the reader.

Word choice is incredibly important. Can you replace “walked” with something else? Stalked, stomped, hurried, dragged, etc? Or is walked really what you want to say? It’s okay to have the most basic words sometimes, as they give the necessary effect. But other words in place of the basics can portray emotion, action, desire, etc and add that much more flavor to your book.

And along those lines, remember to use words that make sense in the context of your work. If you’re writing a Victorian novel, the characters are not going to say “cool” when they like something. But choosing a word so vague and archaic the reader stumbles over it and has to look it up doesn’t make sense either. You want your story to flow, not sound like a text-book. If you’re writing so you sound super smart with a huge vocabulary, then go into academia. Novels are supposed to appeal to the many, not the few.

So here are some words to watch out for, especially when you’re a fledgling author. Do a “find” and click “highlight all” on your document, and you’ll see just how many times these pop up:

  • woman/man
  • Smile/smiled/smiling
  • laugh/laughed/laughing
  • grin/grinned/grinning
  • eyes
  • lips
  • reached
  • toward
  • that

And remember–you can’t nod anything but your head, so saying “she nodded her head” is a redundant statement. Watch out for things like this, as they are a sign of amateur writing.

Great reference books for writing: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus and the Collins Dictionary for Writers and Editors