Originally posted January 15, 2010
One problem with writing is keeping the syntax tight. There is a natural tendency to pad your wording, partly to fill space, and partly because 'narrative' style follows human speech, which is sloppy. There is also an all too human tendency to avoid making definitive statements; to couch your phrases in generalities and saidisms.
I found that I use a lot of throwaway words repeatedly. To get around this, I made up a master list of words which I have posted on my bulletin board above my desk. This includes saidisms like:
There is also a Rouge's Gallery of adjectives such as:
As well as an all purpose pick-up team of overused words like:
And several more. When I go in to edit a chapter, I use the FIND/CHANGE function to search for each of these words. It's tedious, but you'd be amazed how often some words get used. Once I spot them, I try to eliminate as many as possible, either by erasing them, or rewriting the phrase.
'He had seen' becomes 'He saw' - 'would like to' becomes 'want to' - 'He scratched his head doubtfully' becomes 'He scratched his head'. The result is tighter, clearer, and avoids repetition. (In one chapter of my Steampunk novel, I used the phrase 'She eyed him closely...' seven times. I eliminated six of them.)
This sort of repetition and waste verbiage is something that editors look for. (Actually, copy readers look for it; manuscripts which are that sloppy never get to the editor.) When you are hammering your rough draft together, you struggle to get anything down on paper, hoping to clean it up later. Doing a FIND/CHANGE word search will go a long way to achieving that.
So take the list I gave above, add your own commonly used words to it, and use it on everything you write. It makes a difference.