The Write Words
By Stuart Aken
These posts look at language use for writers. It’s easy for us writers to fall into bad habits; using redundancies, applying tautology, and employing clichés. Adverbs come easily, but is your chosen verb 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 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.
Face mask: this is a noun, and a mask is always worn over the face, so you don’t need ‘face’ here, unless you’re describing the type of mask used in cosmetics. The verb ‘to mask’, however, can be applied to anything: you can mask a landscape, feelings, an error, or any number of things. Only when this expression is used to describe a mask worn over the face is this a redundancy.
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 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.
Fan the flames: an expression that means to boost the effect of some action or statement, to make things worse.
Usage: ‘There’s a malignancy about some men in political life driving them to fan the flames in any situation they believe will further their cause, regardless of whether such action harms other people.’
We could say, instead, ‘Some men in political life are so unconcerned about the effect of their actions on others, they’ll use any opportunity to increase tensions caused by an event they believe will further their cause.’
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.
Fatally: an adverb that means to cause death, to result in termination.
Usage: ‘Police report that the youth was fatally wounded by a gang member with a gun.’ Better: ‘Police report that the youth was killed by a gang member with a gun.’ Or, even better: ‘Police report that a gang member killed the youth with a gun.’ or ‘Police report that a gang member shot the youth dead.’ Using ‘fatally wounded’ to describe murder reduces the impact of the crime. Similarly, using the passive ‘was killed by’ gives less stress to the act than the active ‘a gang member killed’. It can be argued that using euphemistic language about crimes and other anti-social acts contributes to their acceptance and continuation in society.
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.