Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dishwater Words

Critique groups are to die for, assuming you find a good match. Critique groups are powerful. They can make or break a good writer.

Annette Lyon, prolific author of primarily women's fiction, speaks about her writer's group in her blog, and how this band of writers absolutely molded her into the best-selling author of today. That's a dream team group, my friends. They started slow, random, and eventually catapulted most of them into publication, one a NYT Bestselling Author. And she attributes her success to the group. Somehow I think the successful have some spunk, drive and personal stick-to-it-ness that serve as a staunch foundation, but still, they hung tight and drove each other to do well.

There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word NerdAnnette also promotes a grammar usage book entitled, There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd. Most authors with a decent level of achievement have a grip on word usage. They have a command of what words are deemed "dishwater words," to use my wording for them.

Ever heard the term "weak as dishwater?" It means flavorless, weak, flat, boring, doesn't add anything to the mix. In other words, they aren't useful, and often turn a good story into boring one. New writers use them more often than others, mainly because they are so busy trying to put a story on paper they don't pay attention to the dishwater words. That's fine. Just as long as they go back and extract most of them and strengthen the prose with words of greater substance. Words with more meat in them--juicy words you can sink your teeth into.

Just for fun, here is my personal list of "dishwater words."

HAD - My agent taught me this one. Sure sign of a first-time author.

WAS/IS/ARE/AM - Forms of TO BE. Passive and colorless. Force yourself to substitute other verbs, and you'll be amazed at how the sentence pops to life.

THERE WAS/THERE IS - Means nothing, and serves as filler in a sentence you gloss over and don't want to bother changing.

IT IS/IT WAS/IT anything - Same as THERE. An empty, noncommittal, filler shortcut when other nouns and verbs will paint a brighter picture.

STUFF / THING - Look these two words up in a dictionary, and you'll see they mean everything, anything and nothing. Unless you are intentionally using them to display informal character, toss them aside and find better nouns.

GET/GOT - Not only is its meaning conflicting (does it mean locate or possess, kill or understand?), but it's colorless with many other substitutes available that would communite more clearly.

WENT - A kissing cousin to GET, it isn't specific. If you WENT someplace, how did you go? Walk, trot, ride, fly, skip? Show us. WENT is a telling word.

LITTLE/VERY/BIG/SMALL - These words are excuses for description, and they describe VERY LITTLE.

FEEL - Telling word. What does feel mean? Show us.

BEGAN TO/ STARTED TO - Most of the time you can delete these words and deliver the same point in a  more profound manner. Often the character either did or didn't do whatever it is these words address, so why not just say it without these dishwater words?

Use Word Find on your computer and note how many times you use these words. Or use Wordcounter, and see what words you tend to repeat. And consider a critique group for correction, because your partners will catch all the words that you don't.

What are your dishwater words?


Paula said...

One of my professors in library school banned us from saying the word "Interesting" in class. "That's interesting" or "I find it interesting that..." have left a bad taste in my mouth ever since. Of course, we played games with him by mentioning that something was "of interest" or "I don't know what that is, but it sure isn't interesting!"

Alexis Grant said...

Great list! I always use "began to" and then have to omit it during edits :)

Barb Hodges said...

Thank you, Hope. As always, great advice.

Karen Lange said...

Good stuff, thanks. Mentally reviewing a couple recent chapters...

Have (or enjoy?) a good weekend! :)

Cheryl Hart said...

Fabulous advice! HAD used to be a biggie with me. LOL

S. Brown said...

Thanks Hope,
I really needed to find out about this. This will help me to be more aware of those useless stagnant words. Sally

~chay said...

"GOT" is my all-time most hated lazy dishwater word. My favourite? The "F" bomb, of course! :)