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?

Every Time You Reply, Baby Patrick Doesn’t Cry

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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New Epic Fantasy Novel: Storm of Divine Light

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The words “epic fantasy novel” do not paint an exact picture. With absolute justification and zero mental gymnastics, Storm of Divine Light is also a mystery, a romantic fantasy, an action adventure quest, and a battle laden with sword and sorcery, all written with a healthy dose of magic, religion, and humor.

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These sub-genres weave into the main story line and world-building. Most importantly, they are not simply tossed in from left field, or as some like to say, “parachuted” into the plot. Instead, they grow organically from the main plot line.


Epic Fantasy + sword and sorcery + mystery + romance + quest + action adventure + magic + humor = A most splendid entertaining experience.


stormpromoF3Imagine the epic fantasy plot line as a thick tree trunk with the sub-plots and genres as branches. Naturally, some branches are thick and closer to the base of the tree, while others are the twigs sprouting from other branches. Therefore, Storm of Divine Light has a winning formula.

Without naming the different descriptions (except quest), can you see the possibilities within the blurb?

A disturbance in the night and an unlikely stranger force the exiled master rogue Dagorat into a perilous quest. Along with his oldest friend Cyril the Wise, he sets off to retrieve a powerful weapon stolen by the dark mages of the Golgent.

Together, they brave the journey across a continent to Dagorat’s former home of Easterly, where discovery means certain execution. Along the way, he uncovers hard truths about his past, and finds new hopes for his future.

But the rising threat of war means those hopes tremble on a razor’s edge. Can he ever find his way out of the shadows and into the light?

Do you like to read multi-genre books? Does the blurb intrigue you?

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Storm of Divine Light: The Tales of Tyrennia: Book 1

Free with #KindleUnimited       eBook $3.99       Print $13.99

 

Progress Report

The covers (ebook and print versions) for my upcoming fantasy novel are complete. I’m still addressing the concerns of some beta readers. The slow process of reading the manuscript out loud has also begun.  Actually, more than a beginning; we’ve completed the first sixteen chapters. I’m not ready to reveal the cover or title. But allow me to simply divulge this tidbit…SoDL: Tales of Tyrennia, Book One.

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Never Trust an Author with a Clean Desk 🙂

I heartily recommend reading your manuscript out loud with a partner. I’m almost stunned at the quality of the end product. Every craft book, or self-help blog post I’ve read have proven their weight in gold. The stream-lined manuscript comes in at three-hundred-twenty-three pages. My formatter says that it will equal more in print, around twenty pages extra.

The first drafts for books two (M&M: Tales of Tyrennia, Book Two) and three (TFW: Tales of Tyrennia, Book Three) are done as well. These drafts are somewhat raw, but I’ve been through the first five chapters of book two and feel it’s ready for another set of eyes.

I guess that’s what happens when one advances their wordsmithing craft. I’m ready for beta readers after three drafts rather than ten or twelve.

Now it’s your turn to give me your progress report. Tell me about your Work-In-Progress.

Every Time You Reply Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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2019: Scribbling Forward

Editing and polishing, and then more editing, are the best words to describe my hopes for 2019. I have no goals for writing any new material this year. Stacks of short stories, multiple fantasy novel manuscripts, and blog posts, are screaming for my attention. Oh, the writing is done, but I’m left with the refining. Besides editing, there’s the search for beta readers, addressing any of their valid concerns, and then the slow process of reading out loud.

I’m toying with the idea of a new FaceBook page for finding betas and starting an online critique group. The live chat program known as Discord (popular with gaming guilds) seems to be the perfect venue for such a group. Imagine attending a critique group while nestled comfortably in your PJ’s (I’m sure some of you have a pair with attached fluffy bunny feet), cat on your lap, and a soothing hot beverage. What a perfect way to receive some feedback for your #NaNoWriMo writings from 2018.

Tell me about your work-in-progress. What’s on the back burner? Or a project that’s about to begin?

Every Time You Reply…Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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Looking Back Upon 2018

2018 has been something of a roller coaster ride.

The disruptions began in January when we renovated the master bathroom. Sawing, sanding, and tiling took its toll on us. Not to mention, the piles of construction materials in the garage, sawhorses, and tools scattered about.mb4

Little Frankie stood and took his first tentative steps.

Then in February, my wife uttered another surprise. “My boobs hurt. I think I’m pregnant.”

gb4By March, we were ready to tackle the guest bath. Back to the aura of pandemonium that comes with construction.

My wife mentioned the problems of renovating the kitchen with two children. Better to get it done before number two arrives. We spent April and May planning yet another project. Kitchens are much more difficult than bathrooms. Cabinets are unforgiving if you’ve measured something…anything incorrectly. Also, these were the months for doctor visits and ultrasounds; which of course, meant many trips to Boise.

Frankie was walking, but only on level surfaces. We took him to the park where he learned about different surfaces.

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Also in May, I feel as if I’ve worked the manuscript for my fantasy novel as far as I can.

Throughout the year, I dedicated as much time as possible talking to mom. I was getting news second-hand and worrying.

On June 1st, the old cabinets were torn out. Of course the contents of those cabinets were in boxes around the house. You’d be amazed about how much foodstuff and gadgets are in your kitchen. There is nothing more disruptive to your home life than kitchen construction. Yes, the project spilled into July. Therefore, for almost two months, we stepped over and around boxes, ate frozen food or take out.k6

For the rest of July we set up the new kitchen, and emptied the contents of all those boxes into the new cabinets. I enjoyed cooking my first meal in a functional kitchen. Naturally, I started off with two of our favorites, chicken cutlet parmigiana with penne alla vodka, and Costeletta di maiale picante (pork medallions with hot cherry peppers).

During the first week of August, the news that I had been dreading came. Mom passed away. I’m not going to dwell upon this subject.momndad copy

Off to New York City with Frankie and a very pregnant Ruth. She was carrying low and large. Most people didn’t believe her due date was two months away, because she looked like she was ready to pop.

In the final weeks of August, I submitted a short story “Road Kill” for a horror anthology.

Pat1Mixed emotions ruled for the rest of the year stating with the birth of Patrick Hunter in September. Joy intermingled with despair and regret. I will never see mom holding him. Little Patrick was born three-and-a-half weeks early and weighed only five pounds three ounces.

By October, I sent my novel out to beta readers. I’m still editing according to their feedback, and the reading out loud process has begun. My short story “Road Kill” was published for the Halloween release of Dark Visions.  The anthology has garnered some enthusiastic reviews.Dark Visions

Little Patrick is gaining weight at a proper pace.

November is for #NaNoWriMo. With a new baby, I knew I couldn’t partake in the festivities. Although I wished my fellow wordsmiths luck on their journey. I did manage some editing and rewriting of Book II.

On Christmas Eve, Patrick gave me a smile.pat16

Now December is almost gone, along with 2018. We celebrated Christmas as a family. Frankie understands the concept of opening a gift. As usual, I purchased three presents for my wife; something practical, something goofy, and one romantic gift.

I can’t help but reflect upon past holidays. The clamor of twenty to thirty people at mom’s for two days of festivities. Like ghosts, the voices of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends refuse to grow dim over time. With so many others gone, I cling tight to my wife and children.

Christmas is not about the food, or presents; stay focused on the company you keep.

Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry 🙂

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Names in Fantasy Novels

Naming Conventions Can Be Quite A Sticky Problem

From the Seven Seas of R’haquirkh to characters names like Ma’charlkh, and the city of Shavartanshiquilltengshui, the naming conventions within Fantasy novels can be veritable tongue twisters. Such discombobulated names that almost contain every letter of the alphabet with apostrophes can aggravate and disorient readers much like a jump cut from a French New Wave film.

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If any of the above names have actually appeared in a Fantasy Novel…well that’s just dumb luck.

Of course, from the other side of the coin comes an equally viable point of view. A main character named Paul, with his trusty sidekick Tommy, and love interest Lucy, from Milltown, could also serve as a means to prevent reader immersion. These names are too close to the real world and can block out your world-building efforts.

Names I’m Using

In my forthcoming fantasy novel, the first in the series called The Tales of Tyrennia (were you able to pronounce that?), I use the following names. I suppose I tried to be somewhat exotic without being too far-fetched.

Main Character: Dagorat – Secondary Characters: Cyril; Katrina; Liberon – Tertiary Characters: King Baldomir; Brother Maynard; Craicwyth; Magda; and Lhinthel (the Elven Queen). Villains: Lamortain and Xantasia.

Kingdoms: Ravenna, Quintalia, Easterly

Cities & Towns: Mentiria, Jalken, Ethelton, Dun Targill

Of course I’ll ask my beta readers too, but I’d to like to have it all fixed before I send them anything.

Did any of these names make you stumble? Got any suggestions or changes?

A New Year: Hello 2018, Good-Bye 2017

As I look back upon 2017, I realize that I set up writing goals for the year that make me want to stop for a moment and say to myself, “Just what were you thinking?” Let’s face it; I set up an impossible level. Yes, under normal circumstances those goals were not far-fetched. However, I made them in January and did not completely understand the time involved with raising a new born. So, before I get on about the future writing hopes and dreams concerning the New Year 2018, let’s review 2017.

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Looking Back at 2017

January: Finished the renovation of the guest room and started on the nursery.

February: Wrote the final short story for the new collection.

March: The stork delivered Little Frankie.

April: Edited 5 chapters of my fantasy novel and placed them in the Beta Reader Manuscript.

May: The Baptism of Little Frankie. We had a house full of guests.

June: Completed third draft of two more short stories.

July: Wrote the first chapter from a sudden bolt of inspiration for a Sci-Fi series.

August: Adopted another stray cat named Moogie.

September: Edited another 5 chapters, which brought the total up to 15 of 28.

October: Wrote a series of blog posts for NaNoWriMo prepping.

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November: Completed draft version 0.5 for the third novel to round out a trilogy.

December: Edited another 5 chapters, which now brings the total up to 20 of 28.

Looking Ahead to 2018

I’m going to keep it simple for 2018. 1) Finish editing and release the first book of the Tales of Tyrennia Series and 2) Finish editing and release a collection of seven short stories. I do not plan on writing anything new. I’d rather just clean up and finalize the various piles of previous drafts.

How was your 2017? And what are you planning to write or edit during 2018?

P.S. *I wrote this post on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day a sudden flash came upon me. I wound up writing the first chapter of a new campy and quirky series. Faceplant!

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Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

 

History in a Fantasy Novel

The history of your world should play a major role if you are writing a fantasy or even a Sci-Fi novel. Imagine how a reader will feel when they are dropped into a civilization or a post-apocalyptic setting without any knowledge. Surely this scenario can make anyone feel like a stranger in a strange land. History is an essential part of world-building.

Of course, one has to naturally avoid long-winded historical passages when world-building. After all, it’s a fantasy novel not a history textbook. Earlier, I discussed the use of Technology In Your Fantasy World. Dropping such hints tells us where a civilization or society currently stands, but it doesn’t speak about how they got there.

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Reflect for a moment upon Gandalf returning to Bag End to impart his knowledge about the Ring to Frodo. The scene plays out with a sense of urgency rather than seeming conveniently dropped into place as world-building filler material by Tolkien.

In my upcoming fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I only delve into several great ancient battles and religious history. Both are incredibly linked to the main plot and the mystery at hand for the main character.

Another “history” would be backstory for characters. I used some of the same techniques and will discuss the in a future post.

I cringed at the thought of writing a chunk of history and sweated profusely when chapter 3 “Religious Relics Are People Too” was read at a critique. Oddly enough it passed with flying colors.

The trick was to “seed” the history in the previous chapter.

In chapter 2, there are sub-characters discussing and comparing historical notes. The main character listens and sometimes get frustrated by their knowledge. He wants to jump in and ask questions, but feels foolish. Later, he’ll accost one of them alone for the information he needs. His sense of “itching” for more information transfers to the reader. A sense of urgency made everything in chapter 3 flow without the aforementioned “contrived” element and seems perfectly plausible.

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History and backstory have to be present in order for a complete world-building experience in a fantasy novel, but many feel intimidated by it. How about you? How are you handling history or backstory in your novel?

Technology in Your Fantasy World

Fantasy novels can cover so many different types of worlds. It doesn’t always have to be a medieval or agrarian setting. Remember, pre-computerized or pre-electrified societies had guns, cannons, and steam power. Have you wandered into Stormwind City in World of Warcraft lately? While many players ride around on traditional steeds, others ride dragons, and still more have motorized transportation. There’s no reason that a little technology can exist in your world as well, if you wanted.

Sometimes a map, creature encounters, or a sword fight are not enough. A reader needs to know what type of world s/he has been thrust into upon opening your book.

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Public Domain Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Now I’m sure some may say, “They know they’ve purchased a fantasy novel. They should know what kind of world to expect.” All well and true. But how to best describe the intricacies of your world? One unique aspect may be the level of technology.

Exposition right out the gate is definitely NOT the way to go. Imagine opening a book or using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature and seeing something like…

It was the third age after the fall of Westernia. Many people roamed far and wide over the centuries. They built communities, new cities, and were now the denizens of four separate Kingdoms. The distances created new languages, regional accents, alliances, and war.

However, all the Kingdoms would unite when faced with a common enemy blah blah blah… Maybe this could work as a blurb, but not as a chapter opening.

Here’s My Approach

A better way to build your world is in dribs and drabs emerging from the story and characters. As an example, in my forthcoming novel Storm of Divine Light, I have a single passage from the middle of Chapter 3 that locks in my world’s technology level and a few other things.

***

The vendor blinked his over-sized eyes and smiled ear-to-ear at Cyril, as only a Gnome could do. He held out a small, plain steel box, about two inches square and a quarter inch thick. With a flick of his fingers, the Gnome flipped the top open to reveal a wick and a gnarled metal wheel. His thumb pressed on the wheel, and after a quick quarter turn, the wick burst into a small flame.

Cyril raised his eyebrows and smiled. “By Korak’s staff! Instant fire.”

“I’d hate to hear the price,” Daggorat said.

After a hearty round of bargaining with the vendor, Cyril paid eight Golden Claw pieces. He proudly admired the gadget as they walked away. “An amazing feat of Gnomish ingenuity and craftsmanship.”

“And you accuse me of being impulsive. Just twelve copper-jacks for our breakfasts. We could eat at the tavern for almost a whole year on that money. Why does everyone trust those Gnomes?” Dagorat shook his head. “It must be those huge childlike eyes.”

“Oh, stop casting shadows upon my enjoyment.” He moved closer and whispered, “Besides, with this fascinating little trinket, I can make fire without suffering the company of dark mages. Or bending to their will.”

***

Within this small passage, I’ve introduced Gnomes, the monetary system, some information about the technology level of the world, and something mysterious concerning both Light and Dark Mages. All while keeping the story flowing. This is the approach that I’ve had the best feedback from at critique groups. Give it a try and see what it can do for your writing!

Hope you found this writing tip helpful.

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