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 easily, but is the verb you’re using the best for the piece? Suggestions here are the opinion of one writer: writing rules are guidelines rather than absolutes, so use your experience and judgment to determine how best to 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 hamper the reader’s progress.
Is it possible to fall up? I suppose we could be pedantic and say it’s possible to fall to one side, but even that entails some downward movement, since gravity comes into play.
So, a fall is a fall is a fall, as good old Isaac Newton discovered when the apple bonked him on the head (that’s an apocryphal story, but it makes the point). As writers, we should avoid using ‘fall down’ and stick to the verb alone. It’ll make our writing more concise and easier to read.
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 because 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’re words or expressions we’ve all encountered more times than…Here, I might use a cliché to illustrate a cliché.
Fair weather friend:
We all have them, people who pretend to be buddies but abandon us when we need their help. Such fair weather friends are worthless, of course.
‘Glenda found, to her cost, that many of those she thought of as close buddies were no more than fair weather friends on the day she was evicted from her home.’
Instead, we could write; ‘Glenda found, on the day she was evicted from her home, many of those she thought of as buddies proved to be far from friendly and were willing to see her homeless rather than help.’
Adverbs, as the word describes, are an addition to a verb. A strong verb always wins over an adverb propping up a weak one. Alternatively, a change in sentence structure can help to express the same idea in a better way.
‘I want you to be fully committed to this enterprise, otherwise it’ll fail.’ Instead, try: ‘I want you to commit to this enterprise to prevent it from failure.’
‘Do you fully realise what effect you’re having on my heart when you look at me that way?’ Might be better expressed; ‘Do you know how you make me feel when you look at me that way?’
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 "Write Words" column on the 3rd Friday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.