Beware The Creeping Nouns

creeping-nouns

I am reading A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work by Jack Hart. Though it is geared toward journalism,  the information is useful and inspiring for my fiction.

One sign of a skilled writer is avoiding redundancy. Mr. Hart uses the analogy of felling a a-writers-coachtree. The skilled woodsman takes efficient strokes and controls where the tree falls, but the “city slicker” hacks away, exhausting himself and endangering his neighbors.

Sharpen Your Axe

During your first draft, you don’t want to think about word choice, you just want to get your ideas down, right? But what if, some of those overused words, those pesky redundancies and expletives never got on the page? It would save you a ton of time during editing.

This Halloween, you are sharpening your axe for a monster hunt. You are hunting E.B. White’s “leeches that infest the pond of prose” and Jack Hart’s parasites that live alongside them in that pond. Once you are trained to recognize these monsters you can stop them dead before they get to your pages!

The Leeches and Parasites

leech

Leeches –

Expletives are more than the beeps we hear on TV. The word expletive also means any syllable,word, or phrase conveying no independent meaning,esp inserted in a line of verse for the sake of the metre (from dictionary.com).

Make sure to hack away at “it is,” “it was,” “there is,” “there were,” and “there are.”

Creeping Nouns are nouns that attach themselves to other nouns but add nothing but dead weight. Mr. Hart believes that if we avoid unnecessary use of “situation,” “field,” and “condition,” we could eliminate half the creeping nouns published. Here are a couple examples from A Writer’s Coach.

. . . and one source said the Cincinnati Reds manager faces a possible suspension for gambling activities.

Gambling is already the activity causing the possible suspension. Activities is redundant.

Officials are saying the combination of millions of dying trees, the seventh year of drought conditions and . . .

Drought is the condition thus conditions is redundant.

Hart’s other examples of creeping nouns you should include on your monster hunt are: field, industry, profession, concerns, event, experience, facilities, situation, and status.

Remember: these aren’t words you want to eliminate from your writing, they are words that can become creeping nouns that create redundancy when they cling to other nouns.

parasites

Parasites –

To avoid parasites, you want to avoid over using qualifiers. A qualifier is the same as a modifier – a word, phrase, or sentence element that limits or qualifies the sense of another word, phrase, or element in the same construction.(dictionary.com)

Mr. Hart calls these parasites “petty modifiers” and “needless qualifiers.” The monsters that should see the sharp blade of your axe before they mangle your writing are: rather, somewhat, generally, virtually, pretty, slightly, a bit and little.

And don’t forget the pernicious overused words: very, like and just!

Happy monster hunting and happy #Writober.

 

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To finish what I begin – Tips for finishing a draft

In you go

With all of the kids spending as much time in the lake as they could before heading back to school, I must have become nostalgic for a moment because I suddenly remembered something from my blue bird (tiny campfire girls) days — “to finish what I begin.” It really stuck in my head so I looked up where I thought it was from, the Blue Bird wish:

“To have fun.

To learn to make beautiful things.

To remember to finish what I begin.  

To learn to keep my temper in.

And to learn about nature and living outdoors.

To have adventures with all sorts of things.

To make friends.”

from alicemariebeard.com/campfire/memories.htm

“To finish what I begin” is my focus in my writing life right now, but a good dose of “to learn to keep my temper in” and fun and friends could definitely help me make beautiful things.

Tips for finishing a draft

1. Jump around – Ideas for scenes don’t usual come in a logical linear order. Don’t let ideas pass you by because they doesn’t happen in the scene you’re working on. Get into it. Write the ending. Write some dialogue that you have no idea where to put yet. I like to use red text to write in a general idea of what I think will happen in the places I skip, so when the idea for something I skipped in chapter one, because I was writing the ending, finally comes to me, I have a quick visual cue telling me exactly where I want to start.

2. Push through – Getting the words and ideas down on the page is the most important part of finishing your draft. Even if the words aren’t feeling quite write, or flowing the way you would like, keep going until you finish the scene, or get to the end of the idea. Don’t give up. Don’t get frustrated. The rewrite is when you get to drive yourself nuts striving for perfection.

3. Be Patient – Though it is good to push through when you have an idea, but it doesn’t seem to  flow the way you’d like, you don’t want to force things. When I want to finish a project, but it’s coming along more slowly than I would like, I often here the mean voice in my head speak up with things like, “I don’t even like this anyway,” or, “Nobody’s going to read this. What’s the point.” That is when I am very grateful I have a supportive friend who says, “Be patient with yourself” and “Tomorrow’s another day.” Some ideas just want more time than others, so be patient.

4. Ask for Help – Any story can be improved by some good research. Reading and looking things up on the internet can add a lot of fuel for ideas, but can also be a time suck leading you down a rabbit hole that somehow ends in useless celebrity gossip. When you really get stuck for story inspiration, ask for help. Think of someone you know who might know more than you do about a certain topic and give them a call. It’s a great break from writing and people really like being appreciated for their expertise. I’m always happily surprised by the solutions people come up with that I didn’t think of.

5. Focus on One Piece at a Time – When you have most of your story on the page, but it’s time to put all the pieces together and get rid of all the red skipped sections, yes, read through, thinking about everything that you have left to finish, but then just focus on one of those sections at a time. Listing everything you have left to do can be overwhelming and make you want to put it aside and do something else. Don’t. Just pick one scene you have left to finish and start with any writing technique that gets you writing. I like to start with dialogue: You may like to describe a setting or a character to get you into the scene. Often times, the little skipped parts in your draft only need a paragraph or two to tie things together, but once you get started, something that once seemed sticky as tar may flow like a river.