The Write Words
By Stuart Aken
These posts look at language use for writers. It’s easy to fall into bad habits; using redundancies, applying tautology, and employing clichés. Adverbs come too easily, but is the verb you’re using the best for the piece? My suggestions here are the opinion of one writer: writing rules are guidelines rather than absolutes, so use your experience and judgment to determine how you can best enhance your prose.
Redundancies are words or phrases that serve no semantic purpose. In speech, they act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they can hamper the reader’s progress.
Brief moment: by definition, a moment is brief. Sometimes, a writer wants to express the brevity, make it something more specific than a ‘moment’. The phrases, ‘a few seconds’, ‘a split second’, ‘a fraction of a second’, or ‘an instant’ can all be used to describe something that lasts only a short time. But ‘brief moment’ should be avoided.
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 and effective ability to describe a situation or quality in apposite terms. Their use should be sparing: in dialogue, they’re fine, providing the speaker would use them. They are words or expressions we’ve all encountered more times than…Here, I could use a cliché to illustrate what a cliché might be.
Cost/paid an arm and a leg: this expression describes a physical action or an emotional situation in which the subject has either, literally, spent more money than expected or intended. Or, metaphorically, suffered a greater loss in emotional terms than was foreseen.
‘I paid an arm and a leg for that concert ticket. If I’d used the promoter’s website, I could’ve saved a fortune.’ This sentence employs two clichés’. We could express the same meaning in a more original, less clichéd way; ‘I paid far more than I should for that concert ticket. If I’d used the promoter’s website, I would’ve paid the proper price.’
Adverbs are as the word describes; an addition to a verb. A stronger verb always wins over an adverb propping up a weak verb. Alternatively, a change in sentence structure can help to express the same idea in a better way.
Blissfully: we’re all blissfully aware that this adverb means ‘blithely’, ‘gladly’, ‘happily’. Let’s look at usage.
‘Tony went his way through life blissfully unaware of the trail of disaster that followed him everywhere.’
We could try; ‘Tony was never aware of the consequences of his actions that often left a trail of disaster wherever he’d been.’
About 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 read Stuart's column on the 3rd Friday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.
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