As writers, we’re totally consumed with words—the style, the quality, the grammatical correctness, the tense, the appropriateness, the number, the… ACK!! Before you know it, you’re curled up in a corner with a glazed look in your eyes, mumbling verses like:
I write them short
I write them long,
But still can’t weave
An author’s song.
My keyboard’s hot
But still no words
That sound much more
Than worthless turds.
Been there, done that. No matter how hard it is to write and re-write, words are our business and their importance can’t be overlooked. Here’s an example of how vital communicating the right word can be.
It was a hot Saturday evening in the summer of 1964 and Fred had a date with Peggy Sue. He arrived at her house and rang the bell.
“Oh, come on in!” Peggy Sue’s mother said as she welcomed Fred. “Would you like something to drink? Lemonade? Iced tea?”
“Iced tea, please,” Fred said.
“So, what are you and Peggy planning to do tonight?” Peggy Sue’s mom asked when she brought the drinks.
“Oh, probably catch a movie, and then maybe grab a bite to eat at the malt shop, maybe take a walk on the beach…”
“Peggy likes to screw, you know,” Mom confided.
“Really?” Fred raised his eyebrows.
“Oh yes,” she continued. “When she goes out with her friends, that’s all they do!”
“Is that so?” asked Fred, incredulously.
“Yes. As a matter of fact, she’d screw all night if we’d let her!”
“Well, thanks for the tip!” Fred said as he began thinking about alternate plans for the evening.
A moment later, Peggy Sue came down the stairs looking pretty as a picture, wearing a pink sweater set and a pleated skirt, and with her hair tied back in a bouncy ponytail. She greeted Fred.
“Have fun, kids!” her mother said as they left.
Half an hour later, a completely disheveled Peggy Sue burst into the house and slammed the front door. “The Twist, Mom!” she yelled to her mother in the kitchen. “The damn dance is called the Twist!”
Poor Peggy Sue. Poor Fred.
So, how can we tell if we’re communicating the right words? Well, there are a few of ways I use. I won’t kid you, they’re all difficult as heck, but they work most of the time.
1. Find overused words like really, that and just and only. I use two ways to do this and both are good.
a. Use the Search feature. Each time one of those words is found, read the sentence and make sure the word is required for the meaning you’re trying to convey. If not, cut!! Yes, really!
b. Read your work out loud. Yes, all of your work, even those hotter than blazes sex scenes. If you have to take a flashlight into the closet to be alone, I can’t emphasize enough how helpful this can be, and for more than finding unneeded words.
2. Reading aloud helps you notice words repeated in close proximity.
*He wore a serious expression.
“We’re in serious trouble,” she said.
“Yes,” he answered, “I’ve hardly ever been in such a serious position.”*
And that’s before they got into bed.
3. Unneeded words bog down your writing. Pay particular attention to the ending of sentences and words immediately after verbs.
*He shrugged his shoulders before answering.* What else would he shrug? his shoulders is not needed.
*“Get out,” she said to her.* If there’re only two people present, to her is not needed.
*Her heart pounded in her chest.* Well, yeah.
*I must get out, she thought to herself.* Yes, if she’s thinking, she’s doing it to herself. No need to say it.
4. Turn your work over to someone else to read. The trick here is to find someone you trust. It’s okay if they like you, but it’s not a necessity. As long as they’ll be honest about what they read and help you make your work as powerful as possible—meaning with the right words used in the right way—you’re okay. The sad truth is, the same way you easily see errors in someone else’s work, your critique partner will see them in yours. Damn it.
5. Think about what you want each scene to mean. Does each sentence, each paragraph help you accomplish your goal? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to cut words I really, really loved because they didn’t help the scene get where it needed to go. The same goes for scenes within chapters. This is tough to get used to, but if you read your work and you’re into 2-3 pages of narrative, take a step back and make sure you can’t turn that into dialogue or action. Readers have short attention spans and often don’t appreciate your genius in narrative. What’s a writer to do? Cut!
6. And of course (which are unnecessary words, but hey…), make sure the word you’ve used is the word you meant to use. As shown above, there’s a big difference between screwing and twisting!
Only a Good Man Will Do
Seriously ambitious man seeks woman to encourage his goals, support his (hopeful) position as Headmaster of Westover Academy, and be purer than Caesar’s wife. Good luck with that!
Daniel Goodman is a man on a mission. He aims to become headmaster of Westover Academy. For that he needs a particular, special woman to help him set high standards. Into his cut and dried life of moral and upright behavior, comes Eve Star, formerly one of Europe’s foremost exotic dancers. Her life is anything but cut and dried, black and white. Daniel is drawn to her like a kid to chocolate. Nothing good can come of this attraction. Or can it? He is after all, a good man.
Daniel took his seat in the Academy dining room with a few of the boys from his dormitory. Each table sat six, with a permanent place for a dorm master or table monitor. Each month, the boys rotated tables, assuring they spent casual dining time with their dorm master and others, and learned proper table manners. Usually, Daniel enjoyed meals with his young charges. They were more willing than the older students to talk about what happened during the day, and he often picked up on budding problems by listening to their conversations. For this reason, even though late afternoon-early evening was the part of the day he had free, he usually liked to attend dinner.
However, he’d changed his calls to Eve from four-thirty to after dinner, and now Daniel counted the minutes until the evening meal ended. He urged the boys not to tarry after dessert and then cursed the fact he had to walk sedately rather than sprint back to the dorm. Once there, he made sure to lock the doors and get comfortable before punching her number on the telephone face. A minor dorm crisis requiring both him and his assistant had prevented their saying much more than hello yesterday, and today, though he’d just eaten, he felt like a starving man.
“Nothing a little sugar won’t cure,” he muttered, using Southern slang for kisses.
At the same moment, a deep, male voice answered. “Well, honey, you ain’t gettin’ it from me.” The man laughed. “Hey, doc. Eve told me to tell you she had to go out, and if she missed you, she’d call back as soon as possible.”
“Hi, Jed.” Of course Eve shouldn’t be hanging around waiting for his calls, but he couldn’t help the disappointment that hit like a sledgehammer. “Say, why’d you call me doc?”
Jed laughed. “Ask Eve.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks.” Well. Daniel set the phone back on the side table. All dressed up and nowhere to go. He looked at the remaining term papers he had to grade, but reading the opinions of high school boys on any subject, much less Romeo and Juliet, a love story that ended tragically, didn’t appeal. What he wanted was to hear the voice of the woman who’d ridden him hard and put him away wet on Tuesday evening.
About the Author
A few years ago, Dee S. Knight began writing, making getting up in the morning fun. During the day, her characters killed people, fell in love, became drunk with power, or sober with responsibility. And they had sex, lots of sex. Writing was so much fun Dee decided to keep at it. That’s how she spends her days. Her nights? Well, she’s lucky that her dream man, childhood sweetheart, and long-time hubby are all the same guy, and nights are their secret. For romance ranging from sweet to historical, contemporary to paranormal and more join Dee on Nomad Authors. Contact Dee at firstname.lastname@example.org.