Friday, August 24, 2007

Writing: Up and Down

Two beta readers returned my latest novel with much praise and scant comments. Yippee for me, the writer needing those bones of optimism in a desert of publication hope. As I scanned the comments, fixing the few things identified, I noticed the word "up" used too many times in a paragraph. I wondered, "How many times have I repeated that word?"

The horror! 312 times in the first 15,345 words. Way too often I believed and then started looking at each occurrence of "up" and "down" in that file. Three hours later, only 123 "ups" remained, and the writing improved with each removal. "Down" was less offensive, but also diminished in use. People don't have to sit down or stand up. They sat or stood in most cases.

I've been good at spotting the obvious overuse of a single unusual word, akimbo being a prime example. It can only show up once in the novel even if the character stands that way a lot. It is a word that tells the reader "look at this word I used". That doesn't always help maintain the suspension of disbelief so desperately needed.

So...how do you spot the overuse of "common" words other than by stumbling across it as I did? And where is that program that can find every unique word and list it in an output file showing you all the words you've used and how often? I want it. I want it now. Down with those words that mess up my manuscripts.

6 comments:

Austin Carr said...

What the heck's a beta reader?

Rick Bylina said...

Old terminology left over from my high-tech days. Beta testing is real customers using versions of software ready to go to market.

Beta testing for my novels. Real readers with no vested interest (read as not family) in the outcome of my career or this book.

Shouldn't you be golfing for gold or sailing for silver on the Navesink River?

Austin Carr said...

I am sailing on the Navasquan with two redheads, in fact. Checking in on my Blackberry.

"Any more tequila?" Eleanor asks.

Sorry, Rick. Gotta go.

penny a. said...

Is there a distinction here between overused words and redundant words? In "She stood up," "up" is redundant. Better would be "She stood."

What is tequila?

Rick Bylina said...

In this minor example, "up" is redundant. In the bigger picture, I used the word "up" way too many times rendering it overused.

Tequila. A Mexican liquor distilled from pulque and seemingly the beverage of choice while Austin Carr sails the waters.

I knew you were going to ask, so pulque is a Mexican beverage made from the fermented juice of vairious magueys.

A maguey is any of various fleshy-leaved agaves.

Rae L. said...

312 ups!

I have a hard time spotting my overused words. I had a fellow author friend look over my latest WIP and I overdosed on "as". I didn't even count how many times I used that lol.

Betas are prob the best way to go...unless we writers can grow another set of eyes and an objective brain. Curious...