The Write Words
By Stuart Aken
These posts look at language use for writers. It’s easy for us 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? 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 best to enhance your prose.
Words often misused: because it’s stolen terms from many languages, English often uses words that appear to mean something similar. However, as wordsmiths, we owe it to our readers to get it right, don’t we?
Affect/Effect: Something that already exists can be affected. And, at that point, you can effect a change in it. So, ‘I effected a change in his behaviour.’ is correct. As is, ‘I affected his behaviour.’ But to say, ‘I affected a change in his behaviour.’ is nonsensical.
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.
Burning the candle at both ends: I suspect we all know this means to do too much, to exceed our true capacity. If you do burn a candle at both ends, it may provide a brighter light, but it’ll burn down twice as fast, and make a mess of molten wax in the process. So, not a good idea.
‘Clarice was weary all the time she was at college. Burning the candle at both ends to get her coursework done while earning a living took its toll on her. In the end, her grades were poor, and she lost her job through poor performance.’ Let’s see if we can write this without resorting to clichés. ‘Clarice was weary throughout her time at college. Combining her studies with full time work meant both suffered. As a result, her grades were poor, and she lost her job through substandard performance.’
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.
Faithfully: When we speak of something being done ‘faithfully’ we can mean it’s carried out in an accurate, true, trustworthy, pious, obedient or disinterested way. So, unless we intend to convey all those qualities, it’s probably better to isolate our true meaning and use a more specific expression.
‘Grant was well known locally for always faithfully following the path.’ We could express this in different ways, depending on our intention. ‘Grant was well known for his habit of walking the same route to work.’ ‘Grant was known for his neutral stance in discussions, weighing up the pluses and minuses before making a decision.’ ‘Grant was understood to be a reliable follower of the doctrine he’d been taught.’ ‘Grant could be relied on for an accurate assessment of the way ahead.’
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 writing column on the 3rd Friday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.