The Write Words
By, Stuart Aken
These posts will examine language use for the writer. It’s easy to fall into bad habits; using clichés, applying redundancies and employing tautology. Adverbs come readily; maybe that verb you’re using isn’t the best for the purpose. But remember my suggestions here are only the opinion of one writer: rules for writing are often questionable, so use your experience and judgment to determine how you can best enhance your prose.
Cliché: a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s so overused it no longer holds power. However, clichés come into being as the result of their original effective ability to describe a situation or quality. Their use should be sparing: in dialogue, they’re fine, providing the speaker would use them.
Against all odds: This expression means ‘in spite of all negative circumstances’. ‘Against all odds, Jonathan made it to the top of the mountain.’ This sentence tells us only that Jonathan climbed a mountain in spite of some unnamed barriers. It tells us nothing about the real nature of those obstacles and is therefore a wasted opportunity to inform the reader. Let’s try this: ‘Ignoring the searing pain in the stump of his left thigh, Jonathan struggled upward on his prosthetic limb until he reached the summit.’ We now know the nature of his difficulty. There could’ve been other circumstances that made the ascent hard for him: I leave it to you to exercise your imagination to come up with alternatives.
Redundancies are words or phrases serving no semantic purpose. In speech, they act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they hamper the reader’s progress.
Added bonus: a bonus is something given or earned in addition to the normal reward for effort or achievement, so ‘added’ is unnecessary.
‘Mary was pleased when her boss gave her an added bonus of an extra holiday week.’ Tautology. Let’s try something that explains the situation without resorting to redundancy. ‘Mary was delighted when her boss recognised her hard work by giving her a bonus at the end of the month.’
Adverbs are as the word describes; an addition to a verb.
Essentially: ‘So, what you’re essentially saying is that you disagree?’ Yuck! Let’s try again. ‘So, your opinion is at odds with mine.’ Or, perhaps: ‘So, you disagree with my assessment?’ There are any number of ways to express this without resorting to the easy option of the adverb. Stronger verbs will always win over the use of an adverb propping up a weak verb.
Meet the Author
Stuart Aken, born to a homeless, widowed artist, in a neighbour’s bed, describes himself as a romantic, open-minded, radical liberal. Raised by a creative, loving mother and a step-father who educated him in things natural and worldly, he had what he describes as an idyllic childhood. An author who refuses to be shackled by genre, he’s written romance, thrillers, sci-fi, humour, fantasy and an autobiographical, self-help memoir, aimed at sufferers from ME/CFS. His fiction is the only place he bends the truth and, after love, remains his raison d’être. You can find his work on his website:
Thank you to Stuart Aken for sharing with us today at Pandora's Box Gazette. You can find his columns here the 3rd Friday each month.