Weaknesses, of a writing style

by Intermittent Rain ~ May 9th, 2013. Filed under: Thoughts about Writing.


* Modified June 24th, 2015 *

I have a few writing tendencies which are weaknesses. I’d like to understand their source so that I can figure out how to manage them.

One is the over use of the word “but”. One person that I mentioned this to suggested that I consider alternative words like ‘however’, but that’s not a good answer because I’m writing fiction, not a research paper and most alternatives to “but” are too formal.

Not only that, but it’s the way that I think and the way that I write that is generating too many instances and too many needs for the word. “But” implies a contrasting but related statement, and I do those all the time. (I’m not intentionally using more instances as I write, but I’m also not trying to avoid them to show how often it comes out naturally in my writing. I’ll highlight them after I’m done to see how often it shows up.)

Sometimes I could just leave the word out, and let the sentences or phrases stand against each other. Sometimes I could probably substitute the word “and” because the concepts are always related or connected; I’m just emphasizing the contrasting parts by using “but”. And maybe it’s my twisty way of thinking through things that leads me to constantly turn back with a “but”, or my desire to cover myself, or to cover multiple aspects as I work my way through something. Or a fear to commit myself by obfuscating my statement by including another aspect or viewpoint.

Here’s another issue: I tend to overuse words in close proximity. When people have conversations they often do the same thing, repeating words to make sure the topic is the same. And within the space of a paragraph or two my topic doesn’t change much, so concept repetition is highly likely, but because my mind is in the conversation between myself and the reader I tend to reuse the same word for the same concept. Hence I find the word “woman” three times in one paragraph, or I keep wanting to use “watched” as I revise a scene. If WordPerfect or some other grammar checker will point these out for me, then I can do something about them.

And a third issue: I have characters do a lot of smiling, grinning, turning to look, raising their eyebrows, ect. Small actions, mainly expressive actions, but they do a lot of them. But this is what I see when I try to visualize the scene. A lot of talking heads.

The source here maybe be at least two-fold: I sometimes tend to write detailed descriptions, so every gesture shows up, and, I think I don’t have enough action occurring while the characters are having their conversation, so all their actions are small facial changes.

Maybe it’s no accident when Richard Ford has the father polishing his boots while talking to his son, so that the act of polishing gives one character something to be doing. Maybe if my characters did more of this they wouldn’t have to pace as often as they do. Give one of the characters an activity, something common for them, something that helps solidify the impression that the reader gets about them, or something that will show a trait or facet that I haven’t yet focused on.

This all comes after realizing that I have already managed to escape one writing weakness, the overuse of adverbs. Somehow, some way, after thinking about that and highlighting “ly” words as a step during editing I’ve trained myself to not use them very often, even in first drafts. Maybe if I do the same kind of exercise with “but” (easy to do with a computer) I can minimize the effects of that issue as well.

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