Friday, June 4, 2010

Stop Words That Kill Fiction

I'm on draft 4 of the NaNoWriMo novel. Still some big stuff to go, but I've been looking at some of little things, too. Like the words that totally creep into my writing without me even noticing. But actually not the first couple of times I've revised. Draft 4, yeah, they're pretty much popping up a lot and now I just really want to get rid of them.

Did you notice the stop words in the above paragraph? There are at least half of dozen sprinkled in. Stop words are one of concepts I learned in library school. These are words so common they don't rate on a search (such as "the" or "a"). And as a writer, they're the words I don't even realize I've written. But stop words in fiction are like bits of gravel that choke the flow of the story.

Since I'm writing YA, there is a fair amount of "I totally couldn't understand" or "I just want to be left alone" because many of these stop words are specific to a type of teenspeak. But the problem is when the sentence becomes "I just totally couldn't understand and I really just want to be left alone."

I've started a list of my stop words. After this draft, I'm going to search through the entire novel and get rid of as many as I can. Some are endemic to writers ("just" is one I see in manuscripts all the time), some are quirky to my own speech patterns (I noticed I used "a little" a lot.). The trick is deciding when a stop word adds to the story and when it chokes it.

Let's take a closer look at "just." Do a search for it on your manuscript. Are you surprised to see how many times it appears? Once, I saw it five times on a single page. Stops words are like the written equivalent of throat clearing, the um's and uh's of literature. They're insidious because you don't realize they're there until someone points them out.

STOP WORDS TO AVOID
  • actually
  • a little
  • a lot
  • apparently
  • even
  • exactly
  • finally
  • I decided
  • just
  • kind of
  • like
  • now
  • obviously
  • okay
  • pretty
  • really
  • seemed
  • so
  • some
  • started
  • still
  • that night/that day
  • totally
  • very
  • well
  • whole

Feel free to add to my list or start your own!

9 comments:

  1. Talk of "cleaning" as a major part of revising, this post is the best demonstration of that process.

    Wanted to print it so I can have it as my reference, but the system won't allow it!

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  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. You might try copying and pasting the post to a Word document if you're having trouble printing.

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  3. What a great list! I write like I talk, and boy, is it enlightening when I read it back again!

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  4. I didn't know those pesky over used words had a name. I have issues with "just" and "really" and search every manuscript for them. Great list! (Although intimidating that there are so many stop words to search for!)

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  5. thank you monica

    this post was helpful. glad to find your blog! see you thurs. thanks for all of your great insite.

    sara

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  6. Excellent post, Monica. Thanks!

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  7. I have a similar list! All your words, plus "sort of," "finally," "as if,"...I could go on... ;)

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  8. These stop words are all new to me. So grateful for your list and posting. Back to my writng with the favorite delete key. Thanks, Maralee

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  9. Thanks for the great reminder.

    Like, when writing, we seem to get into the really pointless habit of using these totally meaningless words.

    An experiment - I'm trying to see if I can get rid of them by dumping as many of them as possible into one sentence.

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