So you think you can write? Well done! Now see if you can avoid these common word traps with some handy tips.
Stop. Go back and read that page again. Are you describing all your characters as ‘heartbroken’? Or does everyone’s house in your story have the same ‘sprawling’ driveway? Quick, get some of that variety-is-the-spice-of-life definition into your fine words.
No, you may not be on top of the world like a cat on a hot tin roof. All idioms and sayings are unique and best left alone: by themselves, in isolation, segregated – you get the drift.
Read more: Top Ten Mixed Metaphors
If you’re describing the tense scene of a murder, do you really need to mention what kind of toothpaste the investigating officer used to floss their cat’s teeth in the morning? Unless the murder happens to be one of a kind with a feline culprit, you do not. So spare that page. Focus.
Short and sweet
In George Orwell’s words: ‘Never use a long word where a short one will do.’ You don’t want to double up as a thesaurus, you just want to tell a good, interesting story tale that will captivate as many people as possible. Don’t you? Consider this the literary version of Occam’s Razor and opt for the simplest linguistic route.
Some of Orwell’s other mantras: George Orwell on Writing
Don’t you think ‘I could care less’ is kind of wishy-washy as an insult? ‘I couldn’t care less’ is what you should say instead. And don’t ‘circumvent’ the globe, circumnavigate it instead, it’ll be a lot more fun.
Subject and verb
The noun that is the subject of a sentence decides the singular or plural form of the verb.
Correct: The car, in which X and Y were sitting, was badly dented.
Incorrect: The car, in which X and Y were sitting, were badly dented.
Correct: One dancer after another fell flat on his face.
Incorrect: One dancer after another fell flat on their faces.
Shake off the excess
Many times, the use of certain words serves no purpose at all other than increasing your word count. For instance:
He met me at the corner and we both walked home.
Since it’s just two people from the start, ‘both’ is redundant. Strike it out. Don’t connect all the dots for the reader, from Point A to Point B to Point C. Point out A, B and C and they’ll crack the code, really.
Get those contractions right
Just because they sound the same doesn’t mean they are.
‘It’s’ is used for ‘it is’, as in, ‘It’s a holiday today’. ‘Its’ is possessive, as in, ‘The first of its kind’.
Similarly, watch out for your/you’re and they’re/their/there.
Tame that tense
Careful about the threads of your story. If you’re sticking to past tense, see that it suddenly doesn’t change to the present and vice versa unless you’re clearly indicating something is set in a different time frame. Consistency is key.
This one is a leaf out of Stephen King’s book (On Writing). He believes ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’, and while it might not be as dramatic as all that, he does have a point. It’s preferable to use boring, simple words like ‘said’ in dialogue rather than pepper them with ‘he said sadly’, ‘she articulated happily’, ‘they said firmly’. The scene that you’ve set should be enough to convey the import of the conversation.
Have some tips of your own? Share them with us!