Pet Words

April 18th, 2014Posted by Nancy

All writers have them.  They’re the words you default to when you’re working on your first draft and you don’t want to slow down to find le mot juste.  They’re the ones you love the sound of or which have particular aesthetic and emotional associations in your subconscious.  They’re the ones you just think are cool and sexy.   They can be very useful in getting things down on paper (or, well, on your screen) without your pesky internal editor censoring.

But sooner or later comes the day when you have to wade into the morass of text and prune those little suckers out.  (I’ve been doing Spring garden work, can you tell?)

My own pet words include “pale” and “dark”.  My wonderful copy editor pointed out that in A Terrible Beauty I used the word “realized” over 100 times. I had to cut half of them out.

I’m at that stage in Cold Hillside and have spent over 5 hours going through all 400 pages (and thank the IT gods for “find and replace”) staring in despair at all the yellow highlights.   Apparently I love adverbs and the words “merely”, “only”, “surely” and “chilly”.   It’s never as easy as simply (another one!) as whacking them all.  Dialogue has to be reviewed to see if it’s strong enough to convey the tone of voice.  First person narration has to be considered: those words sometimes form part of the way the character thinks.  Sometimes they add nuance or weight or just pleasing symmetry to a sentence.

I’ve probably cut over 500 words but there are many more still there.  I’ll have another go at it, as will my editor, but sometimes it’s useful to remember that weeds have their place in the ecosystem.

I plan to confidently tell myself that such is surely the case, in those moments of dark misery at words that seem merely pale shadows of the richness I can imagine but can only dream of conveying through my chilly prose.



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