Mark Twain once 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.”
How many times do we use words like very or adverbs unnecessarily? If we really took Twains advice to heart our writing would probably come out much cleaner and uncluttered.
I think we tend to get hung up on getting across our vision to the reader and over describe things. The old adage of “less is more” is exactly right. We don’t need to tell our reader every minor detail.
There are times we may need to expand description to explain something uncommon. But most often the reader is well aware of how a sunset for instance looks and behaves for example.
Using more than two descriptive words on a subject is overkill and apt to lose the readers attention. They skip lines or pages to find something interesting. You also want to leave just a bit of room for the reader’s imagination to paint the scene as they see it.
A word I used to be very guilty of over using was and. That wonderful three letter word that let you string objects and sentences together endlessly. Better yet the abuse of he, she, it, was, and as.
I have to catch myself still over using ‘as’. As they ran down the hall, or he moved though the house as he… blah blah.
He, she and it are sometimes easier than using the name or another word to point to the character. Over used they become clutter and can be confusing as to which he, she or it is being referred to.
Mr. Twain was a brilliant man and knew that we should keep it simple. Not dumb it down, just keep the clutter out of our stories. The reader doesn’t get bogged down in unnecessary words or phrases letting the characters and the plot shine.
If we can identify the words we over use then take Mr. Twain’s advice. Our rough draft will read a little funny. But when we edit and remove all the damns the writing will be just as it should be. That’s some damn good advice.
Part of the A to Z Challenge 2011
Want another good bit of writing advice check out The Other Ways of Writing :)