Editing For Theme: Search-and-Employ

By Barbara Linn Probst

Your list may be various, however you have one. All of us do.

Your mission: to find and get rid of.

” Destroy and browse” will make your composing cleaner and more expert. That may not constantly be the ideal strategy.

Youre on the hunt for those unneeded qualifiers (started to, seemed to, began to), attempts to create seriousness (suddenly, just then), clichés, and personal pets.

” Personal pets” vary and thus cant be found on a site. (Thats what makes them personal.) For me, theyre all those nods and shrugs and sighs– the lifting of shoulders and eyebrows, tightening of lips, dipping of chins, widening and narrowing of eyes– and any phrase that consists of the word breath or pulse.

Creativity, idea, service idea: Light bulb placed on open notebook with crumpled papers and pencil on wood table with green nature as background. Conceptual organisation thinking and copy spaceThe characters are fresh, the scenes have plenty of stress, and the story has concerned a satisfying resolution. One action remains prior to you state: Done. Its that final check. You click on the little magnifying glass in the leading right-hand corner of the page and search for over-used words.

When “Often-Used” Might Be Okay

To my surprise, it was seldom just a description of someones look. Rather, hair always symbolized something, exposed something about a character. Hair drew back or allowed to tumble easily. An uneven hairstyle or a perfect French twist. New glittering highlights, showing a modification (and a danger) for my bibliophile lead character.

There are times when an often-used word may not be an over-used word– its frequency signaling, rather, a recurring concept with covert possibilities.

: When I was putting my novel Queen of the Owls through the search-and-destroy procedure, I discovered that I d used the word hair much more often than I d believed. Rather of presuming that this was something to be repaired (significance: eliminate it). When and where the word appeared, I took another look at.

Instead of getting rid of or decreasing references to hair, I decided to make them more intentional. Specifically because it was a highly-used word, hair might serve as a shorthand for essential story components of tightness and liberty that had more power through a proxy like hair than they would have had if they were clearly named.

I recognized that hair played an evocative, symbolic role in my lead characters journey.

Search-and-Destroy vs Search-and-Employ

It struck me that shrug and nod– prime prospects for many search-and-destroy missions– are gestures that tend to happen during discussion, nonverbal indicators of a characters action. They imply something.

If a tilted head is the signature trait of one specific character, or happens just when a specific feeling is being communicated (such as hesitation or doubt), then it ends up being deliberate instead of generic. The author is in control of the expression, instead of the other way around.

One guideline is the existence of a particular referent. My individual satanic forces– raised eyebrows, tightened up lips, slanted heads– have actually proven useful when appointed particular functions, instead of utilized indiscriminately.

Dan shrugged. Not this time.”.

So far so great, but what about those classic “search and ruin” words like absolutely, simply, just, actually, suddenly, began to, appeared to– words that are serve no genuine purpose?

Janes nod and Ellens response reveal us their relationship. The next time Jane nods, well feel the frustration that Ellen feels and be all set for something new to happen.

Context Matters.

Okay. How can you choose?

Some words and expressions can go in either case– finest eliminated or finest improved– depending upon the context..

Clearly, not every often-used word or phrase is a surprise gem. A great “test” is to take the words out and see if the sentence still works.

If thats the case, the option is to discover equivalents or near-equivalents; this develops not only range, however subtlety and accuracy. The test is to try synonyms or related words and see how they affect the meaning of the passage.

Jane nodded. Ellen snapped.

Another guideline is the phrases capacity for expressive economy. By utilizing a phrase the reader is familiar with an entire history is rapidly stimulated, without disrupting the story motion.

I wondered which of my other animals might provide a comparable possibility. Could there be an untapped function for nod, shrug, gaze, stare, raise? Existed a method to see them as allies instead of weeds?

Dans shrug shows his indifference, exposing the power dynamic in the relationship. Carolyns reaction shows that shes about to challenge that.

In other cases, the issue is just extreme usage. Unlike the dead-weight of begun to, these are perfectly excellent words (like shrug) whose “issue” is that theyre used frequently, thus diluting their result.

The scene needs Dans shrug; removing it would alter or weaken the effect. But maybe Dan can analyze the edge of his cuff or mutter “whatever.” Or Carolyn can react to his shrug, despite the fact that its not on the page. “Stop doing that thing with your shoulder.” The gesture can– and should– remain, even if its not called. Destroy would be the wrong response. Embody, perhaps. Or indicate.

Lets make this post actionable!

Recognize some high-frequency words and phrases in your manuscript and ask yourself if you need to destroy or utilize:.

Which are dead weight and ought to go?
Which would provide more punch and precision if variations were used?
Which have untapped evocative prospective precisely since they repeat?

We cant wait to read your responses in the comments!

Barbara is also the author of the groundbreaking book on nurturing out-of-the-box kids, When The Labels Dont Fit. She has a PhD in clinical social work, blog sites for several acclaimed websites for writers, and is a serious amateur pianist. Her second book releases in April 2021. To get more information about Barbara and her work, please see http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/.

Barbara Linn Probst is an author of both fiction and non-fiction, surviving on a historical dirt roadway in New Yorks Hudson Valley. Her debut novel, Queen of the Owls (April 2020), is the effective story of a womans look for wholeness, framed around the art and life of renowned American painter Georgia OKeeffe.

For me, theyre all those nods and shrugs and sighs– the lifting of eyebrows and shoulders, tightening of lips, dipping of chins, narrowing and expanding of eyes– and any expression that includes the word breath or pulse.

About Barbara.

: When I was putting my novel Queen of the Owls through the search-and-destroy procedure, I discovered that I d utilized the word hair much more often than I d believed. Precisely because it was a highly-used word, hair could serve as a shorthand for essential story aspects of constriction and liberty that had more power through a proxy like hair than they would have had if they were clearly named. Clearly, not every often-used word or phrase is a covert gem. A good “test” is to take the words out and see if the sentence still works.

Related.

Backed by very popular authors such as Christina Baker Kline and Caroline Leavitt, Queen of the Owls was chosen as one of the 20 most expected books of 2020 by Working Mother, among the finest Spring fiction books by Parade Magazine, and a launching unique “too great to disregard” by Bustle. It was also included in lists put together by Pop Sugar and Entertainment Weekly, to name a few. It won the bronze medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publishers Association, placed very first runner-up in basic fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award, and was short-listed for both the First Horizon and the $2500 Grand Prize. Barbaras book-related article, “Naked: Being Seen is Liberating however frightening,” appeared in Ms. Magazine on May 27.

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