Friday, July 22, 2011

Nitpick for any sort of writing

Nothing words.

We clog out writing with a lot of nothing words.

Yes, I mean adverbs:  "He said dashingly" says a whole lot less about the dude than, "he said as he arced his eyebrow in a quick twist."

But also the "seems" category.  "The car seemed to move."  Well did it?  Didn't it?  We are in the character's point of view--in the writer's point of view if you aren't writing fiction.  In that point of view, it happened or it didn't.  Maybe the car didn't really move.  The character would still believe it did, erroneously.  Which could be pointed out later if necessary.  Right now, that sentence "seemed to move"?  You wasted two words and the chance to put your sentence in the active tense.

"Began to" or "started to" and "tried to" are also pet peeves.  If he "began to shout." well obviously he began at some point because he is now shouting, and isn't that what matters?  If his shout is cut off abruptly before he gets a chance, there are much more effective ways to do that.  "He shouted but claws closed around his throat and turned to sound to a weak peep."

All of those words glut a sentence, rob you of active voice, and are all together silly.  If the idea is to express that it doesn't work out, don't tell us in advance.  Let it unfold so that we see for ourselves this woman's rock climbing failed miserably and she fell.  Don't put "tried" at the front.

I try to be understanding, but it seems these phrases start to rankle after a while.


  1. I remember those lessons from my comp II class at Adrian College. Beth Myers lectured on those words quite a bit. Of course, I still use them at times, when I'm feeling sloppy.

  2. Of course, nitpicking always depends on context.