from the slush minion’s diary #3

I’d like to talk about something positive. All this don’t this and don’t that talk gets me down. As I said often, there are no rules in writing, only guidelines, so they might as well be positive ones, like this:

You feel you are in the hands of a competent writer from the word go when that writer…

… uses precise and to-the-point language…

… which includes:

– using words a reader can picture
For example, I can’t picture ‘furniture’ in a room or ‘clothes’ on a washing line as well as I can picture ‘a table and four chairs’ or ‘overalls’ in the same sentence. Moreover, a more detailed word can add to setting. A character who has overalls on their washing line is going to be a very different person from the one who has massive floral bloomers on their washing line.

– minimising the use of the two ‘weak’ pronouns: ‘it’ or ‘they’
It is possible to kill a piece of writing with overuse of these words. Make sure that when you use it or they, there is a very clear noun for these words to refer to in the previous sentence. People tend to use ‘it’ a lot in speech, but two speakers frequently have connection that goes beyond dialogue. If my husband comes into the room after he’s stomped about the house for a bit, I already know what he’s looking for without him having said a single thing. He hasn’t picked up the home phone to ring his mobile number, so it isn’t his phone. He hasn’t asked me for the car keys, so it’s not his keys. Ergo: his glasses. Don’t assume readers have a similar connection with you or your characters. Readers need to be told.
For the sake of this argument, I suggest you get one of the Harry Potter books off the shelf. Notice that the author rarely ever uses the word ‘they’ when referring to a group of people doing something? ‘They’ means nothing. It’s imprecise and allows the reader to forget who was there.

Use precise language and you’re ahead of the pack.

bash the thesaurus

With thanks to RJ for inspiration 😉

Does your writing suffer from thesaurus-itis?

You know, you’ve gotten over the adverb-and-adjective stage of writing, and someone in a writing group says ‘you should use more interesting verbs’ and ‘you use were/was too much’.

You look at your writing and you think OMG, they’re right. So you jump at the thesaurus. And out come the interesting verbs. Perched, loomed, slanted, seeped, percolated, dissipated, etc etc.

OK, hold the thesaurus and consider the following:

The only thing worse than a piece of text in which the words were/was occur at least once every sentence (and more frequently than that) is a piece of text in which they don’t occur at all.

I use the 50% rule: use a different verb instead of were/was 50% of the time, and no one will squeak about overuse or twisted language.

While castles can happily perch on rocky outcrops, and trees are perfectly OK to loom over small cottages, before you commit to a word you’ve found in the thesaurus, consider whether or not it might, just might, sound far-fetched and ridiculous.

If in doubt, use a simple verb.

Actually, just use the simple verb, and save the more complicated one for a situation where you want to draw attention to a piece of text.

Too many crafty verbs (or nouns for that matter) = eye-bleed.