Friday, March 1, 2013

2013 - MARCH --- Clutter

"Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn't be there." — William Zinsser, ON WRITING WELL

So, what shouldn't be in the writing?
At the top of my list is unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. These two elements can be necessary, but most writers don't realize how frequently they use them and how they clutter a sentence and a story.

Particularly on the most-watched-for list (also known as your Cheat Sheet for Revision) should be words ending in LY. For example: an exceedingly small mouse. Remove "exceedingly" and you get: a small mouse.  Yet, in doing so, another problem is now revealed: the reader cannot "see" in their mind just how small that mouse is. So, for clarity, why not revise to:  a mouse the size of a matchbox? In other words, flagging LY words helps find areas where you can improve the story.

Okay, someone is saying you just added words!  Yes, I did.  I added effective words that painted a clearer picture in the reader's mind.  I've also adhered to the old adage of "show, don't tell."  (And LY words are the worst of the "telling" words that can be used.)

So, is your writing in need of AAR (Adjective-Adverb Rehabilitation)?  Here's a simple exercise to help you determine that. And, if you do this exercise, please leave me a comment about your statistics or conclusions.


Take one short story or one chapter from your novel.

1) count the total number of words in the sample

2) Use your computer's search feature and type in the find box: ly (space). You need to put a space after the LY to prevent the machine from highlighting words like lying, etc. Count only the LY adjectives and adverbs (which means you can skip words like holy and holly, etc. from the count). Only seek out the adjectives and adverbs.

3) Divide the number of adjectives-adverbs into the number of words in the piece and what you get is the ratio of the average number of times the LY words appear. An actual example: 6083 word sample, 49 LY's, equals 1 LY every 125 words. That's not a bad ratio.

So, how many times do you clutter your words with LYs?   I'd love to know (and add them to my list of ratios).


@2013 by Catherine E. McLean *

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