Wednesday, August 12, 2015


CLEAN WRITING. No, not what you're thinking.
This kind:
Writing science research papers taught me the process of clean writing—manuscripts free of too many useless words. Useless words in a science paper are considered descriptive, emotional, and repetitive.
Science papers? "Just the facts, ma'am."

As a result, my first fiction manuscript was a failure. The editor told me my writing sounded like a textbook--every sentence perfect with a key idea followed by sentences of facts to support that important discovery.
That sort of hurt, but the statement opened a floodgate of words that's still gushing. I could use adjectives! And adverbs! And descriptions! But also…too many useless words and phrases.  

Still, I absolutely love to embellish sentences with adjectives, adverbs, and well…a long list of writing errors. If I remove the useless words in the previous sentence, I think it reads like a textbook. Where is that fine line?

AVOID USELESS WORDS: We consider good writing concise, vigorous, and active. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, as a machine should contain no extra parts. Fine idea. But an automobile is a machine. The first cars were little more than a buggy with an engine attached. They were unattractive and uncomfortable. The automobiles today contain endless useless parts, but we buy them because of those extra appealing parts. We want those 

I do agree, though, certain useless words or phrases need to go.

1.  "there is no doubt but that" should be "no doubt" or "doubtless"
2.  "this is a subject that" should be "this subject"
3.  "the reason why is that" should be "because"
4.  "owing to the fact that" should be "since" or "because"
5.  "he is a man who" should be "he"

AVOID USE OF QUALIFIERS: A qualifier is a word or a word group that limits the meaning of another word or word group. The worst offenders are rather, very, little, and pretty.

"I should do pretty well on the exam, for I am a rather brilliant student, but if I make very many mistakes, I'll try to do a little better."

AVOID LOOSE SENTENCES: A loose sentence is one consisting of two clauses, the second introduced by a conjunction or relative. Too many loose sentences in one paragraph will sound mechanical and noted here:

"The last concert of the season was given last night, and the hall was filled to capacity. Jane Doe was the soloist, and John Smith accompanied her on the piano. She proved to be quite capable, while he performed admirably. The concert series has been successful, and the committee was gratified. The committee will plan for next year's programs, and they will offer an equally attractive program."

I could name an author who writes exactly this way, but that would not be nice. are not that person. This person would not be reading my blog post....

The compound sentence is the framework of writing when used wisely and sparingly.

A kind editor—in so many words--told me: "You begin too many sentences with well, now, so, or why. In some cases, these words are acceptable, especially when included in dialogue. Southern people talk this way, but in written narration, use sparingly.

This made sense to me, because when I talk with a friend—on-line or face to face—those little words pop up all the time--like this example:

"What did she say when you said her hair was orange?"
"Well, first she stared. Then her eyes sort of bugged out, and before I knew it, why, she started bawling."
"Oh, my goodness. Now, here's what you should have said, darlin'. You just do not want to make her any madder."
"So, what should I have said?"
And so, well, I need to bring this post to a halt. I need to make a little lunch, because the fact is that my husband is mowing this morning, and he'll be starving. There's no doubt, though, that he won't say an unkind word to me if lunch if just a little late.

(If you can edit this paragraph, you will receive an A+)

What annoys you in a novel?
What mistakes do you commonly make?

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas


  1. In order to...bugs me every time. As does: utilize, prioritize, "for your visibility" and "I'm reaching out to..."

    1. I'm finding more and more errors in the newspaper. I should write each on a list. Some are words resembling those you named, as though the writer wanted to impress the reader.

  2. Apparently I overuse a word with every book, but not the same word. For one it might be "just" and for another "simply". Obviously I do not consciously write those words; they just pop in and have to be edited out.

    1. We all do this. Mine is "well." In my older novel Making the Turn, I began 116 sentences with "Well." My editor pointed that out. I was very embarrassed. Listen, I understand how words "just pop out." I have a serious case.

  3., Celia, a great post. A good primer we can all learn from. Or is that "from which we can learn" ? I started keeping a list of words to either remove or replace. Weak verbs like: is, was, am, were, being, get, got, are, nearly, almost, seemed. I try to be aware of too many-or any-adverbs. And I attempt to remove weak words like: very, thing, really, stuff, almost, I think, much, just, so.
    After recently relocating, I found a lip of paper I had taped to my computer which said: "STOP USING THE WORD "SOME." I don't remember when I put it there, but it sounded like a serious admonition. But, as you know, sometimes you gotta break the rules. That's why I love dialog. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. You made me laugh. I have a digital copy of Self-Editing prompts, and one is a list of the words you mentioned--those weak verbs. I was taught to highlight "was" throughout the ms and try to rewrite as many sentences as possible, using an active verb. I know it's a lazy form of writing to use "was" too often. At least I'm aware of it. Thanks for your input, Tom.

  4. I have MANY pet peeves because this is what I do all day--read other people's work and see what THEY are doing wrong. LOL One of my very pet peeves? ANYWAYS. It's ANYWAY, people! No "s"! That drives me crazy.

    Verb tense is a biggie for me, too, because there are a lot of writers who have no idea that they've started out in the present and ended the sentence in the past.

    I have too many to mention--these are just a couple, but I agree with the others that Keena, Tom and Caroline have mentioned, too.

    Oh, and here's one more that really irritates the heck out of me. "A couple days later," or "I picked a couple flowers"--there must be an "OF" after "couple" in these instances. HOWEVER, the "of" needs to be omitted when you say, "I want a couple more of those..." Confusing, yes, but there is a difference and it just irritates me no end to be reading along and find that someone decided it was okay to leave that pesky "of" out --and they usually do it every single time they use the word "couple".

    Oh, I feel better now! Thanks, Celia!

    1. I'm glad you used the post to vent! I can imagine how many poorly written mss you read. I have something to vent, too.
      I download many Free books--mainly to study the writing. Far too many--maybe 75%--begin with pages of narrative telling backstory. No dialogue or action for pages and pages. If I go through more than five, I refuse to read the book. Often the narration continues 10+ pages. Usually backstory or a long description of the character's actions or thoughts. It's very tiring.
      Thanks for your comment--I always want to read your thoughts.

  5. 'Just' is one of my overused (and unnecessary) words. I've recently deleted over 100 examples of this in one of my early novels, which I'm editing for re-publication. They obviously didn't obviously didn't jump out at my original editor, but they certainly jumped out at me when I read through the story again.
    As for what irritates me in a novel, phrases like 'he was sat' or 'she was stood' really make me cringe. I'm reminded of my English teacher who berated one of my friend for writing 'He was stood near the window' by saying, "What is he? A shop mannequin? Who stood him there?"

    1. This is a new one! "She was stood?" I agree, it would annoy me.
      Don't you hate to re-issue a book? I have three full-length novels sitting in my files I need to re-edit and re-publish. One is old enough the couple does not use cell phones! It will need drastic updating. Thanks for your examples.

    2. 'She was stood' etc is appearing in newspapers and also in some novels. Maybe it's more common here in the UK?
      I rewrote one of my early novels, and found the invention of cell phones was a real problem when I didn't wan t my h/h to be able to contact each other!

  6. Guilty, guilty; guilty. Please forgive me for I have sinned on all accounts. In the recent past I became attached to the word "that." Good Lord, I put "that' in just about every sentence. I've done the same as you and put well or so in the beginning of most sentences--maybe because I talk like a southerner and write the way I talk.
    My senior year in high school I had the best English teacher I've ever had and not just because he told me I had the ability to become a professional writer (but I did love that he told me that in front of the whole class.) Each day he would bring a news article to class and show us the grammatical and spelling errors in it. What an eye-opening exercise. Journalists are fallible. Even now, when I'm watching the evening news, I am attentive to the errors. It's irritating.
    I can imagine how difficult it was for you to transition from writing academic dissertations to fiction. There's freedom in writing fiction, but not so much it will allow passive voice, grammatical errors or misspelled words. You know, now that I think about it, I wonder if I would have liked reading text books more if they had been funny or imaginative in the way in which they told the facts.
    A great reminder and informative article, Celia.

    1. Sarah--I'm glad you had a teacher who recognized your writing ability. And yes, you are a wonderful writer. Your books are passionate and exciting and written correctly. But I don't see the harm in "writing as we talk." One author told me long ago that it was really a gift to do this, because it made me a "storyteller" instead of a "writer." Hmmm. I agree with this for myself...and you, too. You are definitely a "storyteller."

  7. I've taken numerous writing and editing classes, and now I find it hard to enjoy a novel unless it is well written. Even popular authors can annoy me. That doesn't mean I don't make the same mistakes when I write. After awhile, you don't see the words in your MS, just the intent. Good post Celia! Now I need to go back and highlight all the WAS - LY and ING words in my work. *grin*

    1. Hi, Connie--we know too much, don't we? When I began writing, I wrote with abandon. I had no inhibitions when writing. Whatever came into my head went to the page. I could write a novel almost without stopping. Now, I scrutinize too much as I write, thus I now need a year or more to write a novel. In one case...three years. Like you, I don't enjoy reading a story I know is poorly written. But those novels can be a learning see what you don't like, and vow to avoid those errors.
      Thanks for commenting.

  8. I do pretty good weeding out the use of "well," but I do love "so" even though I'm not from the South. So, what do you think of that? I really must watch it or almost every paragraph can start with that word. I love your list of reminders. It is hard, sometimes to strike a balance between an academic, sterile, technical style of writing and one that is interspersed with descriptive, but unnecessary language that detracts. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. You're so welcome! Each of us probably has our set of words or phrases we over-use. Probably "So" is not as Southern as Well. If we say it, we draw it out...."Welllll,"

  9. Oh Celia, I'm still laughing after reading your entertaining and much appreciated post, plus the great replies. Guess no matter how much we write and remind ourselves to be clever and omit those no-no's we must constantly be alert as to what we type. The English language is such a confusing language to begin with and it sure as anything is so darn easy to murder and abuse. When writing, I must constantly reread and find I need to omit the blasted word well, oh, or And at the start of the sentence. I like using And or So once in awhile, but find my overuse more than frustrating and edit those two words out half the time. I especially enjoyed your post since I believe it's a great reminder to all writers.

    1. I forgot to mention "And at the beginning of a sentence. That's another of my many sins. It's easy to write if we string words together similar to how we speak, but some are red flags now that I see the minute I write it. But I'm one who likes to write as it comes to me and edit later. Otherwise, I'd never finish a book.
      Thanks for your comment!