In this post I’m going to reflect on unnecessary, clumsy or meaningless words. As usual, this is what works for me and for my personal style or ‘voice’, and while I don’t expect it to apply to other writers or to a character in a story who uses the words as his or her natural way of expressing themselves, someone might find my ideas helpful.
There are words every Primary School child is taught to avoid; nice is one, and for me got is another. In our modern era nice has become quite meaningless, and got, used as a verb, can be replaced with a vast number of more expressive or concise words. One of the blessings of English is the richness of its vocabulary, so that with the notable exception of the word love, nearly every English word has numerous alternatives with subtle shades of meaning.
When I joined the Whitehaven Writers I was surprised to discover how many words could, and in many cases should, be avoided or removed, and once I was working seriously at The Great Gifts, they positively shrieked their redundancy at me.
If the writing is clear, the word both can very often be removed without needing any replacement. Two characters have opened a door to see what’s behind it – They jumped back. If we know there are two, then both is not needed. Here’s an example from The Great Gifts:
‘Mirely and Orely, both now mobile,’ Taking it out would improve the phrase, as it would with this: ‘They went some way to convincing him he was now both loved and respected.’
Of course there are occasions when the word adds emphasis or subtlety, as here: ‘there was no one on all Myldora to help me with either or both!‘
and here: ‘your Guild should be making proper use of both his Great Gifts’
All is a word I have often deleted, for much the same reasons as both. The context should make it unnecessary. There have been occasions when I’ve put every or everyone in its place, but more often than not, simply taking it out improves the sentence.
That is a word I use a lot when I’m talking casually, but if I allow it into the wrong place in my writing it becomes a stumbling block. It trips me up when I’m reading a passage through for the first time, and if I miss it then, it will usually make its presence felt when I read it aloud.
I did it just now, I wrote: ‘All is a word that I have often deleted’ and of course once I re-read the sentence it screamed at me, so now it’s gone. ‘He said that she should go at once’, is another example of the same kind. For me it comes from a habitual way of speaking, and I know (that) not everyone has the same problem, but I thought I’d share it with you.
My last one for today is almost. I used it (almost) without thinking in the sentence about both. ‘Both can almost always be removed’ This is a sloppy habit (that) I’ve had to train myself out of. I’ve learned to ask, ‘Is it always, or isn’t it?’ And on this occasion to use very often was much clearer and more accurate.
Having been rigorous with my use of this word, constantly asking myself, ‘Is it or isn’t it?’ and frequently reminding myself that most of the time something ‘either is or isn’t whatever’, in a novel of 158,000 words, I find I’ve only used almost 69 times, and each time it’s needed. Precision of meaning is the way to know whether to use it or not. I’ll finish with three examples where I think (that) I’ve used it well.
‘He raced round the pool, almost tumbling in, in his haste.’
‘The meal was almost a feast.’ ‘There came a time when almost nothing was known’
I wonder if you’ve got words you’ve had to train yourself out of? Or whether you disagree with me on any of these? Feel free to let me know what you think with a comment or by using the Contact Me page.