Editing Crutch Words

When we (the Queen and I) were on the cusp of completing the final draft of my fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I came across an intriguing post by #WritingCommunity member, Indie Author and Editor Dan Alatorre. His blog post concentrated on the dreaded phenomenon known as “crutch words.” Just when we thought we were safe, it was back to the draft for another round of editing.

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What are crutch words?

They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become over-used). These repeated words / phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage needs to be reduced.

What do I mean by “usage”?

Word usage falls into two broad categories. First, there is description / exposition and second, there is dialog. I’ll use the word “look” as an example in exposition.

Janet flashed a stern look at him.

Occurrences like this are borderline “telling.”  You can allow about fifteen per novel; just make sure they are distant from each other.

John looked at Janet’s stern face.

Blatant “telling” and also “distancing.” Please edit (with extreme prejudice) such usage from your manuscript.

On the flip side, the word “look” seems quite natural in dialog:

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come over here and take a look at this.”

Proper, simple, and to the point. Good job!  Now here’s an example where I make a special effort to  avoid the word “look.”

“Hey, Janet! Amble over to my location and visually scan this old photograph and let’s see if it surprises you?”

An overzealous crusade to edit any and all occurrences of a crutch word in dialog may result in stilted, wooden, and unrealistic conversation.

In another example, you may have placed the word properly, but it appears too many times within a short space.

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come here and take a look at this.”

Bill glanced over his shoulder and said, “Now look, I can’t drop everything whenever you think you’ve found something important. Keep searching and we’ll look everything over later.” He huffed a breath and stared at John with a disdainful glare.

“Don’t look at me like that.” John flung the photo into a box.

Every single line of dialog is perfectly acceptable. However, “look” is used four times within five lines of text. Do not only refer to the sidebar within MS Word. When you do a search for any crutch word, scroll though and look for clusters.

Is it possible to use a crutch word to one’s advantage?

People, not just authors, have crutch words in their arsenal. Therefore, to make a character more realistic, give them a crutch word or phrase that is reflective of their personality. Remember to use it and don’t abuse it. If a particular character has a verbal crutch, don’t let another character say the same phrase or word as much.

In Storm of Divine Light, I used the word “quite” thirteen times in dialog. The main secondary character, Cyril, uses it seven times, Maynard four times, Dagorat once, and Liberon once. I gave the character Cyril the phrase “Quite right.” Maynard says the same with some frequency, but I also established that he and Cyril are peers in age, education, and social status.

How to find those crutch words

I searched on-line for crutch word lists. Although some results geared toward public speaking and therefore contained “Um,” “Ya know,” and “like.” I found enough sites to compile a general list, but then came the ultimate problem associated with crutch words in your manuscript:  finding the personal ones unique to your own brain.

You may find those elusive personal crutch words by searching for a different one. When I searched through my manuscript for “very,” MS Word also highlighted “every,” “everything,” “everyone” and “everywhere.” In this way, I discovered that “every” was one of my personal crutches. By the time I was done, I had an extensive list to scrub:

  • A bit
  • A few
  • Actually
  • Almost
  • Appear
  • As though
  • Basically
  • Beginning
  • Certainly
  • Could
  • Definitely
  • Each
  • Every/thing/one
  • Felt
  • Finally* (Obliterate this one)
  • Gaze
  • Glance
  • Heard/hear
  • Just
  • Look
  • Nearly
  • Nod
  • Only
  • Probably
  • Quite
  • Rather
  • Reach
  • Realize
  • Really
  • Saw
  • See
  • Seem/Seems/Seemed
  • Shrugged his/her/their shoulders
  • Simply
  • Slightly
  • Some / Somehow
  • Touch
  • Turn / return
  • Very
  • Virtually
  • Was
  • Watch
  • Wonder
  • Would

Remember to apply the principles of usage and frequency when hunting these buggers down.

I’m somewhat knocked out by the difference between a crutch word-cleaned draft and the preceding draft. My manuscript for Storm of Divine Light became tighter, and neater. Or shall I say more groomed?

Did you find this helpful? Did you find a personal crutch word not on my list?

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Balancing Your Chapter Titles

Back in 2016, while still writing and editing my first fantasy novel, I wrote a post concerning the pros/cons and naming conventions of chapter titles. Since then, I’ve learned more about the ins and outs of creating them. First, a chapter title must be true. An author should never title a chapter something like “A Stampede of Pink Elephants” when there is no stampede or even a mention of a pink elephant, real or imagined, within the chapter. This notion of truthfulness brings us to the next problem, and the reason that creating chapter titles requires writing and editing skills, too.

We may label this second can of worms “honesty to a fault.” Imagine a sub-plot dedicated to the romance between the main character, Mary, and the detective, Richard. Naturally, the pages spent building up the romance teases the reader and forces possibilities and questions to grow in his or her mind. Will one die? Will they break up? Will they get married? Perhaps the end of chapter ten is a cliff-hanging hook. Will Richard save Mary in time? Too bad you titled chapter sixteen, “Mary and Richard’s Wild Wedding.” The author created an honest title, but his/her table of contents is nothing more than an extended spoiler list of the novel.

Here are the chapter titles for Storm of Divine Light:

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Chap.  1 The Signs & Portents of Mage-Sense

Chap.  2 The Confessions of Brother Maynard

Chap.  3 Religious Relics Are People Too

Chap.  4 How to Roast a Goblin

Chap.  5 Secret Steps

Chap.  6 The Metamorphosis of Liberon

Chap.  7 Under the Stolen Kiss

Chap.  8 In Hot Pursuit of a Mouse

Chap.  9 Affection’s Afflictions

Chap. 10 The Last Wagon

Chap. 11 The Incredible Gnomish Vision Tube

Chap. 12 A Bloody Fragrance

Chap. 13 Soft Footsteps in the Dark

Chap. 14 Forks in the Road

Chap. 15 Suns, Moons, & Stars

Chap. 16 May the Light Shine upon Thee

Chap. 17 Something Stirs in the Wood

Chap. 18 Across the Queen’s River

Chap. 19 Ancient Rites Fulfilled

Chap. 20 Red Desert Rezzin

Chap. 21 Palatial Brevity

Chap. 22 The Price of Blood

Chap. 23 Golgent on the Horizon

Chap. 24 Weapons of Light

Chap. 25 Bulls, Ballistae, & Bandoras

Chap. 26 Guilder’s Gambit

Chap. 27 Stronghold of Shadow

Chap. 28 Full Circle

Chap. 29 Vows

I hope these chapter titles create an air of mystery and will entice the reader rather than reveal the whole plot of Storm of Divine Light. Of course, they are all truthful descriptions as well.

Do you use chapter titles when you write or prefer them in the books you read? Which chapter title of Storm of Divine Light intrigues you the most?

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week Three Round Up

Hi Folks! This may come as a surprise. My NaNoWriMo 2017 project is on paper. Did I achieve 50k words? No. Which naturally begs the question how I could possibly be done?

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I’ve mentioned before in other posts that my writing procedure can be somewhat awkward when compared to others. Many authors write 115K words and then delete about one-third of their first draft. My drafts tend to expand. Sometimes I don’t add any beats, body language, inner thoughts, descriptions, or appeals to the senses. There are times when I simply blast out page after page of dialog.

I usually turnout what I call draft Version 0.5, which is dialog heavy. The reason for my peculiar style is the desire to get the story on paper first, and then worry about the embellishments later. My first few chapters will have all of the standard extras and then I start drifting into dialog.

As of now, my word count is 24,394 totaling 108 pages.

Hope your NaNoWriMo project is going well.

 

NaNoWriMo 2017: How to Find the Time

Pink Floyd, Jim Croce, and The Chambers Brothers have all composed wonderful classic rock songs about our friend and enemy: time. You can’t look at it, hold it, or examine it; time exists without form. Yet, time is incredibly valuable. For every day, and for the whole month of November, time will be prevalent in the minds of any would-be indie author racing for the finish line during NaNoWriMo 2017. So how to make the best use of the time you have for writing? I’ve summarized some of Chris Baty’s great ideas.

*In the last post I wrote about Setting a Proper Goal.*

A Study in Thirds

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It all starts with planning. In the final week of October, try logging everything you do over the course of a day. Identify everything according one of three criteria: Need, Delay, and Avoid.

Some Things Must Be Done

You shouldn’t avoid certain daily necessities during NaNoWriMo. Our days are filled with a laundry list of mandatory tasks, including laundry. And personal hygiene, feeding the cats, feeding the baby, cooking, cleaning, shopping at the supermarket…you get the idea.

These tasks should not be avoided or delayed, or things get ugly. Let’s say that author Bill stops showering and uses that time to write. Other local authors may use his lack of hygiene to their benefit. Imagine the following phone call.

Local Author John: “Hey, Bill. I hope you’re coming to the write-in tonight.”

Bill: “Wouldn’t miss it.”

John: “Good. Because I’m writing a scene that takes place in a foul-smelling bog. And Susan is up to a scene where some survivors find some rotting food.”

Bill: “I’ll bring my thesaurus.”

John: “We don’t need a thesaurus. We just need a quick whiff of you. Then you can leave.”

Sorry for the tasteless jesting, but I couldn’t resist.

Some Things Can Be Delayed

Yes, there are some tasks that should be done, but let’s face facts, putting them off for a month isn’t going to bring ruin to your life. Does the trim in the living room need a fresh coat of paint? So what? The house is not going to collapse for want of paint. Got some wood that needs to be stacked? It’s outside and drying out anyway. Does the back of the TV need to be dusted? No, it can wait. The TV will not explode from dust (although unattended Penguins on the Tele have been known to go up in smoke).

The Things to Avoid

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Study your list of daily activities. Look at the amount of time spent watching TV, commenting on humorous Facebook memes, Twitter, watching YouTube videos, or online shopping and gaming. If you’re going to implode because you’ve missed an episode of The Big Bang Theory or Once Upon A Time, use your DVR and watch it after you’ve done some honest-to-goodness writing for the day. Regard it as a reward for a job well done.

Consider Yourself Armed With New Knowledge

Come November, I hope you sit your butt down and get some serious NaNoWriMo writing done. If you don’t, you’ll never achieve your goal. Let me know if this strategy helped.

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NaNoWriMo 2017 Is Coming

Even if you’re not a fan or avid viewer of Game of Thrones, I’m sure you’ve heard the famous tagline “Winter is coming.” Well, for all of us denizens within the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth, winter is coming and that means yet another November dedicated to NaNoWriMo.

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Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

 

I’ve never dove into a NaNoWriMo event head first. Usually because I think too hard about the deadline and 50K words and shrug it off. Granted, I’ve used the push from others to force myself into dedicated daily writing and completed existing drafts.

What Makes NaNoWriMo 2017 Different?

A friend at my small critique group slipped me a copy of “No Plot, No Problem” by Chris Baty. In case you’re not familiar with his name, he’s is one of the founders of NaNoWriMo. Within its pages I’ve discovered that my previous method and mind-set were completely off-base and essentially at odds with the manner in which any would be author should approach a #NaNoWriMo event.

As An Aid to Other Indie Authors

Throughout this October, I’ll have a series of blog posts that will serve as a quick “How To NaNo” guide. So forget about finding a coffee maker with an intravenous tube, three cases of Twinkies, or a special box to lock up your cats. The good news is you will not need to do push-ups or run for miles in this training program.

My Project For This Year’s NaNoWriMo

A few weeks ago I was having a sleepless night. While I tossed and turned, book III for my Tales of Tyrennia came to me in a flash. So, it’s a sure bet what I’ll be working on this November. In the next post, I’ll reveal the correct mind-set to have concerning your end product.

Use the Comments To Tell Me About Your NaNoWriMo 2017 Project.

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Are You a Hooker?

An author needs to hook a reader from the very beginning. Inciting incidents or a slam-bang opening line leads to an intense first paragraph, then a great first page, which then expands into an irresistible first chapter. Let’s face it, authors are professional hookers. However, never forget that every chapter must have a “chapter-ending hook” as well.

For the beginning or end of a chapter, “hook” is simply a term used for clever device that which will grab the reader’s attention and hook them like fish. With their emotions and curiosity sufficiently teased, their hands will flip pages.

A Brief List of Chapter-Ending Hook Ideas*

Revelation: We learn something new about a character or a clue to a mystery. The revelation can either be character or plot-based.

hook.png

New character: Method to introduce a new character (almost self-explanatory).

Questions: Sometimes an answer generates more questions.

Decision: Your MC has a decision to make and all choices have dire implications.

Sex: Never end a chapter with sex, end it with the probability that something carnal could happen.

Temptation: All heroes or MCs should have “feet of clay,” as in a flaw or weakness. Tempt your characters and you will also tempt your readers to keep on reading.

New Conflict: If some conflict is resolved then a new one must be introduced. Or take an existing conflict and augment it.

Danger: The classic “cliffhanger.” A villain’s reappearance can mean a new danger as well.

*Well, what are you waiting for? Add some below. 🙂

Watch Some TV

As much as I hate, despise, and loathe some of the banal nonsense that passes for entertainment on the old “boob tube,” I must admit that you can learn a lot about hooks from TV. Television writers have to deal with hooks all the time. They are usually inserted for a commercial break because they don’t want you to reach for the remote control.

Take care that you watch something current. I know that it is always nice for an old rerun of the original Star Trek or The Twilight Zone, but their commercial breaks happen whenever the station decides to sell you something. Also, there were fewer commercials back in the 1960’s (or whenever) and they’re timed differently these days.

Stop Being So Nice and Polite

Perhaps you’ve noticed that to effectively hook, you have to be something of a “meanie” to your characters. Sometimes you have to be brutal and vicious. Just turn on the news, bad things happen to good people all the time. Any guilt you feel will be erased by your pride in producing a higher quality end product.

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REVIEW: Death on a Dirty Afternoon by Colin Garrow

I love a good detective story, and Colin Garrow delivers beautifully within the pages of Death on a Dirty Afternoon (The Terry Bell Mysteries Book 1).

The most interesting detective / thrillers always have an ordinary John Q. Public thrust into a mystery that needs to be solved for self-preservation (for example, The Thirty-Nine Steps, North by Northwest, or The Man Who Knew Too Much, all directed by Alfred Hitchcock). This wry whodunit follows that tradition, telling the tale of a cab driver named Terry Bell who becomes a suspect in a series of murders. The cabbie must conduct his own investigation in order to prove his innocence.

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In the Author’s Notes, Colin Garrow states that he did spend some time as a cab driver in a seaside English town. The otherwise quaint setting for tourists is a veil for a seedy underworld culture lurking in the city. Naturally, a cab driver would get familiar with the locations of brothels, and at least be acquainted with certain “less than savory” residents. He worked this aspect of a cab driver’s life into the story, and it lends credence to the overall plot.

Author Colin Garrow has a flowing style which never comes across as heavy-handed. I did not have to backtrack at any point. I am in disagreement with some reviewers at Amazon who stated that the author should’ve Americanized some of the dialog instead of delving too deeply in local slang and accents in the UK. An author must be honest and try to present a true representation of the setting. Good show, Colin.

Also, Mr. Garrow daringly wrote this clever story in the first person. I usually shy away from that narrative perspective. My ears screech too often in critique sessions when someone makes an attempt at writing in the first person. Normally, the word “I” is used 45-60 times per page. Therefore, I usually beg them to stop and try it from a different angle. However, Colin Garrow handles this problem quite deftly without over-using the dreaded pronoun.

Mr. Garrow has created a rather complicated plot with all of the investigative dead ends, discoveries, and twists which are indicative of the genre. Yet I did not get lost or confused at any time. Also, when our hero Terry Bell uses his ingenuity to get out of tight scrapes, it always seems plausible.

At only $2.99 (USD) on Amazon, this little gem is a bargain and comes highly recommended. You can also pay a visit Colin Garrow’s website here.

7 Easy Tips for Indie-Authors

I’ve noticed many memes or progress posts by indie-authors on Facebook and Twitter like “Wrote 2.5k today.” Of course, when such messages pop-up at around 10:30am, one has to wonder if the author’s blazing fingers melted the keyboard. Writing has to be done because we all understand the classic tidbit of wisdom that you can’t edit a blank page. However, some indie-authors should learn how to live life. Therefore, I’ve put together a small list to combat the typical bad habits that plague indie-authors. Hopefully, these tips will help the writing / editing process.

First: Open a window and breathe. That stuff you smell is called fresh air. Your body and brain needs oxygen, don’t deprive yourself.

Second: I’m sure there’s a place where you can order a couple of poached eggs and toast. Hotpockets, snickers bars, pizza rolls, and Twinkies* do not constitute a diet.

*I’ve discovered a widely held belief among indie-authors. Chocolate or fudge covered Twinkies are considered a healthier alternative to the standard Twinkie. Many authors believe the coating prevents bacteria or other micro-organisms from penetrating the cake and cream filling. 🙂 

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Third: Once a day, or for once in your life. Please put down the coffee mug or shot glass and try a glass of water or juice. Man does not live by bread alone, nor should indie-authors live by caffeine alone.

Fourth: Take a break. Even prisoners on death row are given some time to roam outdoors. Time spent on social media like Facebook or Twitter is NOT considered break time. You’re still typing and reading!

Fifth: Socializing can be fun. Maybe we indie-authors should try it. Going to the coffee shop to have a critique session with other authors doesn’t count. Perhaps combine this one with a trip to the diner.

Sixth: Please give your cat(s) some play time. There is an indie-author / cat owner corollary. After all, you are their human and they need attention too. Remember, cat lives matter!

Seventh: Just look at the disarray on your writing desk. When do you plan on cleaning it? There is probably a better place for the piles of notes and craft books. If you’re a voracious reader, then you should have shelves or a bookcase somewhere?

I’m sure this list can be expanded. If you’ve got an idea drop a comment below. Also, are you guilty of any of the above habits? I know I am, just look at the photographic evidence of the Twinkie.  🙂

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Anaphora Paragraphing?

 

A dictionary definition of “Anaphora” would state, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs.

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and on the streets, we shall fight in the hills.” – Winston Churchill

“This blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England.” – William Shakespeare

From the above examples, you can see how this technique is used for a heightened dramatic effect.


Try to refrain from over using anaphora as well. In “Storm of Divine Light,” I properly used the technique twice in 376 pages.

Excerpt: Patrons never suspected the humble servant Dagorat once had another name. A name he had tried to bury; an infamous name which struck terror into the hearts of travelers and merchants alike. Blackmond Moonshadow, the most notorious rogue who ever wreaked havoc upon the distant Kingdom of Easterly.



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The word “paragraph” in the definition poses a bit of a problem. Other language / writing guru’s like Hofmann referred to the paragraph as a natural barrier to anaphora. Creativity Hacker refers to starting paragraphs with the same word whether consecutively or just too often as “Echoing Headwords.” This concept seems to apply to both paragraphs and consecutive sentences.

Let’s say that your MC is named Lisa. Imagine the paragraphs on one page starting as follows.

Lisa grabbed…

Lisa looked…

She stepped on…

The dog barked…

Lisa hurried….

She opened…

Lisa went…

*Psst…I know that most of the sentence starters above seem like an assault of declarative sentences, but that is the subject for another blog post.

As you can see, beginning paragraphs with repeated words just doesn’t work very well. Unlike adverbs, where the usage rate is one for every five to seven pages, I couldn’t find the acceptable rate of repetition concerning echoing headwords.

It would be quite a daunting task to complete a novel with every paragraph starting with a different word. I went back into some drafts to find a rate of repetition in my own #writing. I found that you can repeat the start of a paragraph every other page, or at least eight to ten paragraphs apart, as long as they are not on the same page.

As for sentences, try not to use the same “headword” consecutively or bunched too close together.

Have you found evidence of this faux pas in some of your drafts?

***Check out Ernesto San Giacomo’s author page at AMAZON and choose a title today!***

#NaNoWriMo 2015: Week 1

Well the first week of #NaNoWriMo is over. It could’ve been more productive but there are extenuating circumstances. 1) My wife is home from deployment and was still enjoying leave time. It would’ve been really wrong of me to shun her and spend selfish time at the PC. 2) Also she’s on a renovation quest. The kitchen needs an overhaul, so we spent a lot of time at Lowe’s & Home Depot.

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Image Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Aside from domesticity, I did manage to squeeze in some writing time and made it to a “write-in” in Boise, Id. This is my first attempt at NaNoWriMo from scratch. I did participate last year but only to finish off my manuscript for “An Easterly Sojourn.” Book one in my #fantasy series called Tales of Tyrennia.

For NaNoWriMo 2015, I started the manuscript for Book II: “The Frozen War.” So far I’ve managed 6,232 words. Already the book has taken off despite my planning. I love it when a plot or a character takes on a life of their own and moves away from my notes in a different direction. Don’t you love that too?

I’m though the first six chapters and had to update my notes because the subject matter of Chapter six was never planned. So back to my notes and change the chapter numbers.

Stay tuned…I’m hosting a “write-in” at a local coffee shop for the #Treasure Valley Group. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How far along is your NaNoWriMo 2015 manuscript?