Carver’s Cuts: Part One

Every time I do an editing push, maybe taking a few days to read over this or that novel, I inevitably notice one more chronic issue that drives me nutty. I don’t know where they come from. I swear they just grow whenever I put my manuscript down. And then editing is like turning a log over. Lots of squirming things and me going, “Eek!”

Loooooog

Sure it looks good, but what’s underneath?

As authors, it’s our job to cut out these little many-legged critters. Today I’m starting a series of posts called “Carver’s Cuts,” and I’ll be talking about those unnecessary words that bore holes in our manuscripts. Not to say they aren’t good words (is there such a thing as a bad word?), but that they might pop up a little more than is absolutely necessary.

I hope this is as helpful to you as it is to me. I’ll be back next week with another set. And if you can think of some that you find in your own work or prevalent in our www dialect, or if you have a different opinion about the ones I’ve listed, let us know!

  • Managed: I don’t know why, how, or when I started doing this, but I stick this word everywhere without realizing it. It’s always, “I managed to do this, he managed to do that, she managed not to use ‘manage’ in every single sentence …” Really, the number of times you need to put “manage” in front of an action should be absolutely minimal, otherwise you’re watering down your text.
  • Just: Again, I don’t know how, why, or when I started to do this, but my characters apparently “just” do this, or “just” do that. Reading through my own work turns my vision red sometimes, because there are so many of them and they are completely unnecessary 99.9% of the time. The only reason you might need “just” is in a comparative situation, such as, “Tara wasn’t hungry, she just needed the comfort of peanut butter garlic toast.”
  • Tried: Exactly like “managed,” I found myself using “tried” far too often, so I made a pact with myself. I would only use it if a character tries and fails to do something. Even then, only if the narrator is inside that character’s head and we know for absolute certain that they are trying (though in some ways, all characters are trying for their authors /rimshot). Like so many of my other unnecessary words, “tried” merely watered down my text.
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2 thoughts on “Carver’s Cuts: Part One

  1. As I am also editing my book, it helps to hear from someone who’s in the same boat.

    I haven’t noticed these words repeating in my work, but I do know – thanks to Leona – that I use “looked,” “eyes” and “smiled” often. It wasn’t until Leona started editing my work that I challenged myself to find new ways of describing the action my characters experience between dialogue. Dialogue comes naturally to me so for many years I didn’t focus as much on the words in between.

    With “looked,” it helps me to realize that often the reader assumes two people talking to each other are looking at each other, so unless one of them glances away or is avoiding the other’s gaze, you don’t have to specify the looking and spend that time/space describing another significant action instead.

    Haha: “I managed to do this, he managed to do that, she managed not to use ‘manage’ in every single sentence …” Good sense of humour!

    • Hahahah, thanks!

      Maybe we could come up with a master post on different actions and expressions and new ways to describe how people interact. I have a couple that I throw around like confetti, so it might be a good exercise for me. D:

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