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?
Virtually: Often used incorrectly used to mean ‘nearly all, as in: ‘When I arrived home, looking forward to gorging on my birthday present, I found George on the sofa, the box open on his lap, and virtually all the chocolates gone!’ Better to use ‘nearly’ or ‘almost’. ‘Virtually’ is good for rough descriptions that are more or less right, near enough, as good as. ‘She’s virtually the President of the bank.’ She lacks the title, but she’s in charge of the bank.
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.
Dark before the dawn: a poetic phrase that’s been used too often to retain its original force. It means little more than ‘the night’, or ‘the hours before sunrise’. But it can have a subtext, too, suggestive of a number of emotional aspects including despair, hope, and fear. It’s perhaps better to use an expression that indicates which emotional element accompanies the experience of either the continuing darkness or the promise of the coming light.
‘Shirley curled into a protective ball, awaiting a sunrise that seemed hours away.’
‘Shirley curled into a protective ball, knowing the sun would soon rise, bringing the security of daylight.’
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.
Enthusiastically: I imagine we all know that ‘enthusiastically’ is used to describe actions done with energy and verve.
‘Paul rose enthusiastically from his bed, ready to face a day he expected would bring good news.’ Maybe try, ‘Paul leapt out of bed, eager to start a day full of promise.’
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.