Words to Control + F

When in the process of splashing out words for a new story, we all find ourselves writing words we don’t need, repeating words, and being hacks in general. I’ve composed a list of these ‘filler’ words that I’ve found most often in my own work. Search for, and delete!

Very: Delete any that aren’t in dialogue.

Almost: Delete unless it is specifically necessary for a thing to almost be, instead of just being.

Nearly: same as above

Really: Delete if it’s being used as an adverb, unless in dialogue.

Still: When used to show something is continuing, you can delete it 90% of the time. To show something is motionless, often you can use a better word. (I bet you’ve used ‘still’ a dozen times for that already.)

Toward: Can almost always be changed to ‘at’ or ‘to’ or be removed.

Turn: My characters are constantly turning this way and that (even turning toward things!) and most of it is unnecessary.

Feel/felt: Jane felt the water lapping gently at her feet. versus The water lapped gently at Jane’s feet. The only reason to say feel/felt is if the character wasn’t feeling it before and now is, otherwise it is sort of taken for granted that they can feel it…

Watch/see/saw: Same as above. Unless there is a real need to make it clear that the something is visible to your character, it is kind of assumed that the viewpoint character can see what you are describing. Jane saw and heard the waves splashing, and felt them lap her toes. Seems silly now, right?

 

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Love, death, ghosts, and history. What a sad, funny, interesting and heart-squeezing novel.

From Wikipedia:

Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, my wife’s cousin pointed out to us a crypt on a hill and mentioned that, in 1862, while Abraham Lincoln was president, his beloved son, Willie, died, and was temporarily interred in that crypt, and that the grief-stricken Lincoln had, according to the newspapers of the day, entered the crypt “on several occasions” to hold the boy’s body. An image spontaneously leapt into my mind – a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pietà. I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read “Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt”, decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion, no commitments. My novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is the result of that attempt […].[10]

What must that feel like… to not only finally complete a project you’ve been thinking about for decades, but to also have it be so acclaimed?

I hope he feels proud, because it is great. I never would have though a book written in such a strange way could evoke such strong feelings, but it does. After a few pages of it, you don’t notice the strangeness as much. Or, you do, but it is no longer a hindrance. It blends into the feeling of it. The idea of dozens or hundreds of viewpoints coalescing into a single story of a single night.

I think anyone with an open mind could enjoy this book. The only people I’ve seen saying bad things about it are just complaining about the way it’s written, not what’s written.

The only minor complaint I had was how short it was. The 360 or so pages it claims would actually be probably half that, if each page were covered with words instead of having them spread out as it is formatted.

Read if you want something fresh and interesting and heartfelt!

Despair, by Vladimir Nabokov

Schadenfreude–pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune. Nabokov, I am coming to find, is the master of this.

The key to it, is to not identify too much with the person experiencing the misfortune, otherwise it becomes uncomfortable, cringy, awkward… but this, is not. You find yourself laughing with the most perfect satisfaction.

And I want more!

Good thing he has many novels left for me to read…

Mystery on the side

I’m listening to another Nabokov novel, and no surprise, it’s great. This one is about a struggling businessman who also seems a bit mentally unstable, running across a vagrant who happens to look exactly like him.

The instant he sees this face, a plan sparks in his mind. You can tell, but, you don’t know what that plan is… and that is the mystery. Not how he is going to do something (he’s going to do it by using a look-alike in some way) but what he is going to do.

Since it’s Nabokov, I automatically suspect that this guy is way less smart than he thinks he is, and also that there is a lot going on between the lines. I’ve not yet discovered much, but it is fun searching for it.

Language is a tool not a box

After much recommendation, I am reading a book that on the surface is about a subject (American History) that holds mostly no interest for me. But boy is it good and weird and written in a strange way.

Would you read a novel made of citations? That’s what this seems to be… a large portion of it anyway. Also, the point of view changes every paragraph almost. And each paragraph (each POV, that is) is written in a different style. Some of them with no punctuation, misspellings, or odd capitalization, and each one signing off with their name at the end.

Example of citations:

The rich notes of the Marine Band in the apartments below came to the sick-room in soft, subdued murmurs, like the wild, faint sobbing of far-off spirits.

-Keckley, op. cit.

Willie lay in the “Prince of Wales” bedroom with its dark purple wall hangings and golden tassels.

-Epstein, op. cit.

The cheeks of his handsome round face were inflamed with fever. His feet moved restlessly beneath the maroon coverlet.

-In “History Close at Hand,” edited by Renard Kent, account of Mrs. Kate O’Brien.

Example of POV changes:

The lad, overawed, followed close behind us, looking this way and that.

-hans vollman

Well now I will give you A part of, or all of, if you like it, a Song my dear husband used to sing. Cauld it Adam and Eaves wedding Song. This Song was Sung by him at my sister’s wedding. He was much in the habit of making Songs and Singing of them and— Oh no, I won’t go no closer. Good day to you, sirs.

-mrs. elizabeth crawford

We had reached the edge of an uninhabited wilderness of some several hundred yards that ended in the dreaded iron fence.

-hans vollman

And the entire novel, so far, is written this way.

‘You can’t do that!’ shouts the English teacher. Well, the point of writing is to convey ideas, and this does that well, in its own way. If it works, it is allowed!

Why should we treat language like a fence around us? Uproot that fence and use its posts to carve your message into the ground!

Language is for using, not for obeying…

Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

This is the epitome of genius. Nabokov must have some kind of freak literary gene that makes him so good with words. This is one of the few books I’ve wanted to start reading again the moment I reached the end. (I think Lolita was another…)

On the surface, Pale fire is a 999 line poem book-ended by an introduction and commentary by it’s editor and publisher. But between the lines, it is a hilarious journey into the mind of a delusional narcissist.

It’s hard to say much about this book other than it is brilliant, subtle, and such a wondrous feat that I sometimes wonder if Nabokov was not a plain old mortal human like the rest of us, but instead an incarnation of writing itself.

I feel lucky to be alive in a time when this book exists. Read it!

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Kafka has some way with words that makes everything seem like a slow, surreal nightmare. This story, in simple, straightforward language, manages that feeling while still being somewhat comical.

Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find he’s transformed into a giant insect-like creature who’s smell and appearance so horrify his family that they can’t bear to be in the same room as him for more than a few seconds.

But, like The Trial, it all has the effect of a strange dream… an inevitable, existential horror creeping slowly but unerringly.

First he is sequestered to his room, only able to listen to his family or guess what they are up to. Then the furniture is removed from his room. Then the room (and he) gathers dust and trash and is left untended… and his relationship deteriorates at the same time.

And it all somehow evokes a feeling of… shrinking, of the world being stripped away until reality is a single room, a single floorboard at which your eye is pointing, unblinking.

A short, strange read. Well worth it.