The Write Words
By, Stuart Aken
Examining language use for the writer here. We can all fall into bad habits; using clichés, applying redundancies and employing tautologies. Adverbs come so readily; maybe that verb isn’t the best for the purpose. But 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 best to enhance your prose.
Cliché: a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language so overused it no longer holds power. Clichés, though, emerge as the result of their original ability to describe a situation or quality. Their use should be sparing: used in dialogue, they’re fine, as long as the speaker would use them.
Drives me up the wall: This expression means some comment, action or event causes the speaker to react with irrational emotion, but the simple translation would be: ‘makes me mad/cross, or irritates me a great deal’.
‘It drives me up the wall when people generalise about the bad behaviour of politicians, as if every one of them is bad or foolish.’ We could write this instead; ‘I’m frustrated by people who believe all politicians are unscrupulous when it’s clear that, in common with all walks of life, there are good and bad.’
Redundancies are words or phrases serving no semantic purpose. In speech, they can act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they hamper the reader’s progress.
Anonymous stranger: a stranger is, by definition, unknown, so the use of ‘anonymous’ is a tautology and therefore unnecessary.
‘Jennifer came home with an anonymous stranger she told us she was going to marry.’ Perhaps the parent’s shock caused the redundancy here, but the following sentence would mean the same; ‘Jennifer arrived home with a stranger and told us she was going to marry him!’
Adverbs are as the word describes: an addition to a verb.
‘Honestly, this is the best buy.’ Do we assume the addition of ‘honestly’ will persuade potential buyers of the statement’s truth? Could it, in fact, do the opposite? It’s better to leave the claim as a bald statement; ‘This is the best buy.’
‘I honestly believe aliens abducted Fred: you should have seen him when he came back a completely changed man.’ Two adverbs for the price of one here. Let’s try again: ‘Fred convinced me he was abducted by aliens, and his conversion into a more considerate man when he returned has reinforced that impression.’
Stronger verbs always win over the use of an adverb propping up a weak verb.
Words clouds created by Wordart.
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:
And he is happy to connect with readers and writers via Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn.
Read "The Write Words" column by Stuart Aken here at Pandora's Box Gazette the 3rd Friday each month.