The Write Words
by Stuart Aken
These posts aim to improve 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: it’s worth remembering writing rules are guidelines rather than absolutes, so use your experience and judgment to determine how best to enhance your text.
Synonyms are alternative words that have the power to convey exactly what you’re trying to say.
My thesaurus lists 20 sub-headings for this word, 13 as verbs. (‘keep’ is also a noun for a specific part of a castle, and can refer to a type of store).
After the sub-headings comes a lengthy list of phrases beginning with ‘keep’. So, this is a word we probably use more than we realise. Some of the sub-headings are; look after, store, safeguard, and defend. All of which relate to the use of the word as a way of describing the habit of preserving something. And, in this sense, the word ‘keep’ is also used to describe the custom of maintaining a festival or tradition, as in ‘to keep Christmas’. I think examples of usage here would be superfluous, but I encourage writers to explore this word’s many meanings and discover the wide range of alternatives available.
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.
Kill two birds with one stone:
This is an odd expression; the original was used to describe unlikely actions of a hunter. Most of us would avoid killing birds, after all. It’s come to mean to perform a task that has two or more beneficial results. And, like all clichés, it describes that action so well it’s become overused. In creative writing, clichés can grate on the reader, so alternative ways of expressing an idea are preferable.
‘Jason knew he could kill two birds with one stone if he destroyed Jasmin’s letter instead of posting it. That single act would remove the evidence of her sickening declaration of love for Nigel and, at the same time, ensure nauseating Nigel never knew about her affection for him.’
We can say the same thing without using the cliché: ‘Jason could destroy Jasmin’s letter, instead of posting it, meaning her sickening declaration of love for Nigel would be lost and, at the same time, the fool would never know of it.’ Why not see if you can find a better way of expressing this?
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.
To kneel is to flex the knees and lower the body to rest on them. Since this involves moving down, we don’t need ‘down’ and can leave the word ‘kneel’ to do the job unaided.
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.