Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Tuesday's Tip for Writers #8 - This 'n "That"

It's been a while since my last Tuesday's Tip for Writers, but here I am with a little time on my hands, and it's Tuesday. Today's tips are a somewhat random list of things to look for when editing. Actually, these will be more random to you than to me. These are things I recently worked on when editing Dark Knowledge.

1. Do you really need that that that you've got there? In general, if you can remove a that without making the sentence unclear, do it.

2. Are you dash-happy? Love the semicolon? Writers sometimes fall into patterns. Look at your manuscript. Notice an abundance of any of these symbols?
-- ; ! ...

I finished an edit of Dark Knowledge yesterday, and I was shocked--shocked, I tell you--at the number of em dashes I used to emphasize or add some point in the middle of a sentence (like I did in this one). I'd guess I eliminated over 75% of them. Other writers get hooked on ellipsis or semicolons or exclamation points. Do you have a favorite? If so, you might have over-used it. Take a look.

3. A related tip to #2. If you question whether you over-use a word, expression, or punctuation mark, find out how many you used. It's simple, even in a 90,000+ word novel like Dark Knowledge. I'm not sure if all word processors have this feature, but mine has a find and replace function. I type that into both the find box and the replace box, click replace all, and it tells me how many it found and replaced. There are no visible changes to the document as long as I type the words the same way in both boxes. BE SAFE. Save your document before doing this. When you're done, close it without resaving. Just in case.

4. Into is different than in to. Onto is different than on to. A friend pointed out that I was using these incorrectly over a year ago, and I still have to think about it. I remind myself that into and onto are prepositions.

He tossed a penny into the wishing well.
"Into the wishing well" is the prepositional phrase.

Look at the difference in these sentences.

He turned his keys in to the receptionist.
(He turned his keys in, giving them to the receptionist.)

He turned his keys into the receptionist.
(He's magic. His keys are now a receptionist.)

5. Farther and further are interchangeable in some people's minds, but not in everyone's. It's safer to use farther when referring to physical distance. Use further to mean in addition or to a greater degree or longer in time.

I looked in Dark Knowledge for examples. For further:

* There had been no further episodes, but Henry remained watchful.
* His eyelids flew open before he could think it through further.
* Frustration joined shame to further darken his mood.
* "Wesley begins work at Goodwill on Tuesday," Henry said, repeating what Bobby had told him moments earlier, a further sign Henry was distracted.
* Remain available for further questioning.
* "He wanted to be here," she continued as if he needed further convincing.

For farther:

* He backed farther away.
* He sailed higher than he had imagined possible, but the higher he rose, the farther he would fall.
* Wesley looked up and then pushed the pile of clothes farther down the table, clearing an area big enough for two people to use.
* Stuart moved farther into the room.

I hope these random tips help.


  1. Thanks so much, Keith. I'm doing a search and replace on Yes. I suspect I overuse it. Also, I'm stuck on curse words. I keep hearing my protagonist's daughter saying, "Shit." But I'm wondering if it's just me.

  2. I moved on to my other novels and did a find/replace on my beloved and drastically over-used em dashes. Ack! I found something like 278 in Daeva, so I used the find function again and eliminated about 200 of them. Many left are at the end of broken dialogue or a broken thought, where they definitely belong.

    In Denver. Pretty hot but nice.

  3. I over-use the word 'that'. Chop it quite regularly even though I keep an eye out. Makes me nuts.

    Joylene - (Shame on such profanity - Hah!) I wrote a blog post long ago about how the word SHIT originated. In the old days they exported manure using wooden ships. It sometimes became soaked in seawater in the hold, & when it started drying out it created a sort of methane. Any flame could cause an explosion & many ships were lost. To avoid this, the manure was tagged SHIT - meaning "Ship High In Transport"

    I may not be any damn good at coaching anyone in the writing game - but I know my 'shit'.

    Hope STRUCK is doing well - looking forward to the interviews. Back to my editing. Dave