Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Don't water down your own Scotch

One habit (of many) I've worked to break is that of letting certain words dilute my prose. Words like really, kind of, very, somewhat, sort of, a bit, a little, and rather.

I used to like them because they inflated my word count, but they're like air pockets in cement. Sure, they fill space, but you can't build anything on them.

Words that don't serve a critical purpose slow the reader down. And dilutive words are like the friend from college who crashes on your couch for a month: not only do they avoid adding anything useful, but they also take away from their surroundings. Nobody is interested in kind of epic mountains or somewhat bloodthirsty werewolves.

And I cut "very" and "really"-type words, too. They seem at first to add emphasis, but like adverbs, they're usually a signal that I need a stronger word or phrase. Consider the following.

Imagine that a friend has set you up on a blind date. Which description sounds more promising?

  • "He's really nice. He's also very funny. And he's really, really (ridiculously) good-looking."
  • "He's one of the kindest people I know. He's also a riot. And he's got a smile that could stop traffic."
Writers usually aren't on the witness stand. A little exaggeration is fine. But if I have to be precise, I'm going to be precise. I won't say "a pretty tall girl" when I can describe someone as "a six-foot Amazon." If the steak was only a bit tasty, I'll say that it was on the favorable end of the charred rubber to grilled perfection spectrum, but I won't be making reservations again any time soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.