I know why those great Russian novelists of a century ago all look so gloomy. The artist immortalized them at the unfortunate moment they realized they were faced with a gazillion hours of searching for overused words ahead of them in their manuscript. The horror of that realization is starkly painted in their bleak expressions, forever.
Sigh. I know the feeling.
Mark Twain said, “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Well now, we could have some fun with that!
“We are doing very well, thank you,” replied the vicar. “The weather is very nice, and the food is very good.”
Let’s do as Twain suggests and see what happens:
“We are doing damn well, thank you,” replied the vicar. “The weather is damn nice, and the food is damn good.”
The word ‘damn’ leaps out at you, because you don’t really expect it. I personally enjoyed replacing ‘very’ with ‘damn’. It improves the sentence and makes me really like the vicar – after all, who doesn’t like a bad-boy vicar? But, fun though it is to give the vicar potty-mouth, in reality it’s unnecessary because we don’t need a modifier in this sentence. It’s a genteel murder mystery, not a modern take on the Canterbury Tales.
“We are doing well, thank you,” replied the vicar. “The weather is nice, and the food is good.”
Words we frequently overuse are necessary evils. There is a reason we fall back on them – they are easy to use. When we write them we are seeing our work the way we want it to be, and we don’t realize we have begun to repeat ourselves. We need them because in some cases, they are the only word that fits in that context. We don’t want them in every sentence, or even in every paragraph. In your first draft, they are rampant; occasionally mutating into gigantic, face-devouring, zombies. We use them, we abuse them, and they weaken our sentences. It’s a BDSM relationship here, and you must become the dominant partner!
Once you are finished with your first draft, do what is called a global search – in Microsoft WORD you click on the ‘Home’ tab, and at the far right hand side click on ‘Find’. This will open the ‘find and replace’ menu……………………………………………………………………………………………………\/
In the ‘find and replace menu, type the word ‘very’ and click on ‘find next’. The word ‘very’ will be highlighted in blue, and you can delete it. I don’t recommend doing ‘replace all’ with any overused modifier, because you will create more problems than you can imagine! Look at each individual instance of the word, and either delete it or change it to a stronger word.
Deleting them or changing to a stronger word will help you grow as writer. You will begin to think about your sentences and stretch your vocabulary.
Next do the same with ‘that’, and ‘had’. These are words which we all use too freely in our first draft, and until an editor pointed it out to me, I had no idea how they weakened my work. They are good words, used infrequently and only when another won’t do the job. “Damn,” said the vicar. “It’s the very thing I was looking for. How about that?”
Doing this is time-consuming – on my manuscript it took me three days of hard work to search and check the usage for each instance of the offending word, and eliminating them took 9 days.
No one said writing was easy! If you do this first, your editor will have a much easier time of guiding you in making your story a pleasure to read, and that is what your editor does best!