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.
This word can be used legitimately to distinguish the specific from the random. ‘There was no particular reason why George decided to end the affair, nothing he could isolate as the crucial factor.’
However, when used as a ‘filler’ it has no purpose and slows down the read. ‘In this particular case.’ Unnecessary; duplication of meaning. ‘In this case.’ says it all.
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.
Pay through the nose:
We all know what this phrase means; that we’re being charged more for a product or service than it’s worth. But there are other ways of expressing this, depending on the type of writing you’re doing.
‘Pauline was so determined to have that picture, she was prepared to pay through the nose to get it.’ We could say, ‘Pauline was so set on buying the picture, she was prepared to pay more than it was worth.’ Or, ‘Pauline was so determined to own the picture, she would pay whatever the vendor demanded.’
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.
‘Climbing the hill on his old bike was physically challenging for George, with his gammy leg and bad back.’
We could try, instead, ‘George had a gammy leg, a bad back, and an ancient bike, all of which made climbing the hill hard work.’
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 “The Write Words” column on the 3rd Friday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.