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Friday 30 September 2011

Editing tips - Just a word

There are a select number of words that just force themselves on the writer. I’ll get round to them, eventually. Just for now, though, let’s look at that particular word, ‘just’. (Word repetition intentional…!)

The word insinuates itself into paragraphs. It needs excising unless it’s really doing its job.

Take, for example, a paragraph in Lonesome Dove (again, I’ve recently read it so it’s readily available with an example; many other books, mine included, probably have similar paragraphs that still need further editing).

… For a moment his spirits rose, just from the sound of Gus’s voice. It was Call and Gus, his old companeros. It was just a matter of making them realize what an accident it had been, him riding with the Suggs. It was just that they had happened by the saloon just as he was deciding to leave. If he could just get his head clear of the whiskey he could soon explain it all.

Just too many repetitions (5), I feel. Such repetitions are referred to as word echoes – they’re hovering around in the writer’s head at the time and spill out at the slightest provocation. Self-editing should cut them down – or remove them altogether.

Anon, I'll supply a few other echo words that crop up too frequently.


I.J. Parnham said...

This is a good series of tips.

Just using that extract, 'For a moment' is one of my favorite phrases. I struggle to write more than a few paragraphs without using it and yet often it adds nothing. Eliminating 'It was' often leads to a more interesting sentence and I reckon the worst nothing word of all in there is 'all'.

It somehow creeps into all sorts of places in prose, even more so than just, and it's hard to spot that it's just not adding anything at all.

All uses of these words above was intentional!

Nik Morton said...

Glad you like the tips, Ian - subjective, of course.
Yes, I've seen 'For a moment' creep in to mss quite often too!

Indeed, several words 'creep' in and need excising at the self-edit stage. Maybe we should call them 'creepy words'?

More words soon.