Sunday, August 19, 2012

Let’s just delete those justs

Sometimes I give an author a comment along the lines of, “You have used this word three times in this paragraph. Do a find and remove two thirds of the uses of this word in your story”.
The comments I get back run from, “Rats! I’d used ‘but’ too often and replaced some with ‘just’. Now I have too many ‘justs’.”  To, “Help! How do I do that?”
So first, to avoid the problem, you need to remember that although your heroine’s luminous jade-green eyes, are the most striking thing about her to you, your reader is not stupid and doesn’t need to be reminded about them on every second page. Tell us about them once or twice near the beginning of the book, preferably in someone else’s POV, then only mention them once or twice again in the story.
Then read through your book looking for “crutch” or unnecessary words. “Just”, “actually”, “then”, “approximately”, can often be removed without changing the meaning of your sentence in the slightest.
Now, if we’ve identified a problem, do a “find and replace”. Delete your crutch word and replace it with a symbol so you can easily notice the sentence when you read through your story. As you read through, often you’ll find nothing is needed, and all you have to do is delete the symbol. Sometimes you do need to replace it with a word or phrase. But watch out that you don’t just collect a new crutch word. Try to keep it fresh.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.