Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grammar Rules: Say Bye To Those Really, Really Nice Words

We’ve already talked about tautologies; now, I would like to discuss other areas where certain words are used that should not make the final draft. Writing is a skill like any other skill that has to be learnt. And when we learn new skills, we have a tendency to fall into some bad habits. Knowing what these bad habits are will help make you aware so that you can avoid the slip-ups.

Follow me on this line of thought; you’re writing a story and want to describe a person’s height, so you think for a minute, and eventually you end up with a phrase such as this:

He was a very tall man.

What is the problem with this sentence? It weakens the writing. First of all, take out ‘very’ and all the other words like it (‘really,’ ‘nice,’ ‘pretty,’ and while you’re at it throw out ‘cute’ too) and don’t use them. They are over-used and do not strengthen your work.

Now we are left with:

He was a tall man.

That’s better, but how tall is he? Is he taller than average? Does he stoop to walk through doorways? Of course, we can state his height as in the following example:

He was a tall man – six feet and six inches.

Or we can use a bit of creative power; think about what it is you’re trying to say. In this instance, I see (in my mind, that is) a man in a crowd, but he’s a good foot taller than the rest, which makes him stand out easily. Once you have the image, play around with words until you find something you like that still gives a clear picture that this man is tall.

He was a tall man, standing a foot taller than the rest of the crowd.

His head bobbed above the sea of faceless heads.

Even though he was a head taller than the rest of the crowd, she didn’t hold out much hope for him to see her. She had been dubbed ‘Pixie’ for a reason.

Another overused word is ‘that.’ It doesn’t mean you can’t use it, but see if the sentence can stand without it. Imagine your sentence is a building and each word is supporting the roof. If a word doesn’t need to be there, or if it’s not supporting the roof from falling in, get rid of it.

That’s (chuckle) all, have fun writing.

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