Grammar for Fiction Writers: Busy Writer's Guides Book (2014)

Part II. Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t

Chapter 11. Take It to the Page: Part Two

Hint for Part Two: If you’re writing in present tense rather than in past tense, make sure you adjust any searches you do to reflect that. For example, if you’re writing in past tense, you’d search for looked. If you’re writing in present tense, you’d search for looks.

Step 1

When it comes to homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently), you probably have some that you have no problem with and some that always trip you up. A good trick to speed up the editing process is to keep a list of the ones you commonly stumble over. Use the Find feature of your word processing program to search for these pairs and make sure you’ve used them correctly. If you’re just starting out and don’t have a list of your own yet, to get you started, we’ve included a list in Appendix B of some of the most commonly confused words.

Step 2

Do a search for the following words/phrases. If you’ve used them outside of spoken dialogue, make sure you correct them. If you’ve used them within spoken dialogue, make sure you’ve done it for a reason.

·        Could of

·        Should of

·        Would of

·        Irregardless

·        I could care less

·        For all intensive purposes

·        Supposably

Step 3

Do a search for the following words. Have you used them purposefully and strategically? If not, rewrite the sentence to remove them.

·        honestly

·        literally

·        obviously

Step 4

Use the Find feature to search for the following weasel words. Does your sentence need them to make sense? If not, delete them.

·        a bit

·        a little

·        about

·        actually

·        again

·        all

·        almost

·        already

·        also

·        although

·        and so on and so forth

·        anyway

·        appear

·        approximately

·        as a matter of fact

·        back

·        be able to

·        began

·        began to

·        big

·        bit

·        by means of

·        close

·        down

·        enough

·        even

·        ever

·        every

·        far

·        feel

·        for the most part

·        going to

·        have got

·        however

·        immediately

·        important

·        in order to

·        indeed

·        instinctively

·        just

·        just then

·        like

·        many

·        might

·        more or less

·        most

·        mused

·        nearly

·        never

·        often

·        only

·        over

·        own

·        pretty

·        quite

·        rather

·        real

·        really

·        roughly

·        seem

·        small

·        so

·        some

·        somehow

·        somewhat

·        sort

·        started

·        started to

·        still

·        suddenly

·        that

·        then

·        think

·        though

·        thought

·        up

·        used to

·        usually

·        very

·        well

·        wondered

Step 5

You can do this step in two different ways depending on your word processing program and how you prefer to work. We’re going to be looking for helping and state-of-being verbs.

Option A

Run a search for the words iswas, and were. For each result, ask yourself the following questions.

Am I reporting a fact? (E.g., “She was ugly.”) If so, how could I give evidence instead? What carefully selected details would best lead readers to the correct conclusion? Is the detail I’ve chosen to use consistent with what my point-of-view character would notice?

Helping and state-of-being verbs can often be replaced by stronger, tighter verbs. For example…

Emily was walking to work.

Becomes…

Emily walked to work.

Can the helping or state-of-being verbs you’ve located be removed to make your writing tighter and stronger?

Option B

If you prefer to do this step by hand, print out a chapter of your book. Use a highlighter and highlight all of the helping or state-of-being verbs listed in this chapter.

Is your page littered with highlights? This can be an indication not only of telling, but also that you need to work on replacing helping or state-of-being verbs with stronger, tighter verbs.

For example…

Emily was walking to work.

Becomes…

Emily walked to work.

Can the helping or state-of-being verbs you’ve located be removed to make your writing tighter and stronger?

For the rest, are you reporting a fact? (E.g., “She was ugly.”) If so, how can you give evidence instead? What carefully selected details would best lead readers to the correct conclusion? Is the detail you’ve chosen to use consistent with what your point-of-view character would notice?

Step 6

Use the Find feature to search for these unspecific words. Can you rewrite the sentence to make it stronger and clearer? If so, go for it.

·        get/got

·        things

·        moved

·        took

·        looked