Have a listen to a short excerpt of my novel, the Shuttered Room narrated by Rachel Shirley, describing the inner feelings of Jess who is pursued by a kidnapper after she breaks out of the captive house. Notice how the narrative moves along at a steady, yet relentless pace. No sentence is allowed to sit and do nothing. Every word is made to count. Now to break things down.
Rotten Words in Novels
The focus of this article is not the words used in character dialogue, as natural speech is not word-perfect or tightly constructed. I am taking a personal view upon the sort of words the author would do better to use sparingly within the narrative prose. By cutting such words and changing sentence construction, the writer’s style can only improve. Let’s take them one by one.
Words with Clunky Suffixes
Words with clunky suffixes include dizziness, coolness, mindlessness, endlessly,
|Clunky Words in Fiction|
Dizziness for vertigo,
Coolness for poise or
craziness for folly
See my YouTube clip on writing style
Words to Cut from Novels
|Passive Voice in Writing|
Horrid Words to Avoid in Novel Writing
And here, I have just committed the offense: using the sort of word a lazy writer might use. Such words includes, lovely, wonderful, beautiful, adorable, horrible, nasty, terrible, pretty, silly. comely, etc. Such words seldom convey what the writer is actually saying. Who knows what these words mean, when used in sentences such as ‘she had a pretty face’ or ‘the drink tasted terrible’? A better strategy is to use such words sparingly and use any of the five senses to describe exactly how she was pretty or what was terrible about the taste.
Words for the Editing Pen
Words that convey an abstract concept means different things to different people. Shame, grief, nostalgia and love. Such words often need qualifying as love for a pet is different to love for a parent. Don’t use these words in isolation or the reader will feel detached from what the character is supposed to feel. Again, use the five senses to describe the sensations the character is feeling.
Tautology in Novel Writing
Words that repeat or provide a crutch for a hobbling word can sneak into your narrative prose like woodrot. Who needs to say, ‘he felt a cool sensation on his arms,’ when coolness cannot be anything other than felt? We can safely cut ‘feel’ and ‘sensation’ without losing the sense of the sentence. A suggested revision might be, ‘His arms gooserashed in the chilly air.’
Watch out for verbs such as feel, see, taste and hear, if the noun can only be perceived by one of these sense. Change the sentence construction to include a strong noun, paired with an active verb.
Lazy Adjectives and Adverbs
|Lazy Describing Words|
Why not say, ‘he sped,’ ‘a juggernaut,’ ‘a skyscraper’?
Such overuse of adjectives and adverbs smacks of an aversion to the thesaurus to find a more accurate word. The cost of this is to use an 'almost' accurate word and pair it with a qualifier. A less than ideal fate for your writing. More examples are,
A small wood: a coppice; she gave a false smile: she simpered; a metal jug: a tankard.
Contrasting Words in Fiction
Another great tack I use in writing is to throw together contrasting words. Take a look at the prologue of my blog novel, Nora to see how I use contrasts in words. The beginning of the first paragraph is quite soft and uses words such as Cupid, eyelashes and ebony. But the ensuing sentence uses the words wanker and prick to make the reader sit up.
Great Words for Novels
Widen the range of words used in your novel. Create bizarre word pairings, use colourful active verbs and pick accurate words that will do the job of twenty words. Give nouns something to do: ‘Dusk descended,’ ‘The air thickened,’ ‘The sun blazed.’
Don’t stop at an apparent perfect word if you can find an even better word. Make the thesaurus your friend and it will do your novel writing service. And that means cutting weak words from your writing style.
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