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A Word is a word isn't a word

A word is a word isn't a word

As an editor, one of the things that peeves me is to come across a manuscript that is so good, but for the fact that the author has used the same words over and over again. Many times, authors don't realize just how often they are using what we like to call "pet words". Words that could be replaced by an alternative, but have become so easy to the author, they are thoughtlessly placed in the manuscript in order to "get the story out."

We as editors understand this concept. However, once the story has been written, there are certain tricks and tips that you as an author can use to look for these overused words and change them. First, let me stress to you, READ your manuscript. Don't think because it's written that you are done. The writing is the easy part. You as an author now also have the responsibility to perfect it. The first step in that process is to read word for word and ensure that what you have written makes sense. Does it flow? Are all your facts straight? Are your character names right? Do you overuse them? Do you overuse your pronouns? Are you straight on your character's motivations and traits? While reading, take notes. Are there words popping up more frequently than others?

Yes? Please say yes, because ALL authors have them. If you think you don't you are fooling yourself. With your list in hand, and manuscript read, use Microsoft Word's Highlight Feature. I use a different color for each word. Highlight these words so that you can easily see them and change them. If you don't know how to use the highlight feature, leave me a message, I will send you detailed instructions. It's really simple.

Now, with the words highlighted, you can go back and once again read your manuscript, this time editing the things you noted on your first reading and changing those words. It makes a difference what words you use. Why use the word look 60 times when there are so many others. Have you put the word shook in your manuscript 100 times? Well, why can't he or she rock, sway, didder, stir etc. And it goes beyond choosing synonyms. If you've used this word so many times, maybe it's time for your character to stop shaking. Take the word whisper. There is only so many times and so many ways a character can whisper before it becomes unreal. A character doesn't whisper all the time, well, unless they've had a tracheotomy and that should be explained, and then we editors will understand.

The bottom line is your word choice matters. It REALLY does. Don't choose these words that people will have to look up. No one wants to sit there with a dictionary and read your book. Why would I want to stop reading your story to look up a word I don't know? At the same time, don't dumb it down. Just write....write like you're talking to a friend. Talking to the average Joe. Let's face it. That's who is reading your book. So words like gesticulate might not be fitting when you can so easily say your character stirred in his sleep. Who says he gesticulated?

Before you submit your manuscript, take a moment and read it out loud. It may sound all good in your head, but when your hear it read, it may be totally different. The flow really comes out when you hear it as opposed to reading it. You'll hear those words that don't fit. You'll hear when you've said a word over and over again. You'll hear words that aren't ringing true. You'll hear it...and it's another way your brain operates that will help you submit your best work!

As authors that is what we all should want...our best work!

Copyright  Deborah Herald 2009 Editor @Lyrical Press

Do not Judge me until you've walked a mile in my shoes