How to Tighten Your Manuscript

writingI learned a new term recently: “Pleonasms.”

A pleonasm is a word or phrase which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, “John walked to the chair and sat down.” Down is a pleonasm and can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Although I was not familiar with the term, I did know them when I saw them. In fact, part of my editing advice revolves around deleting extraneous words. Words such as “that,” “very,” “both,” “just,” and “there was.” Others might include “began,” “started,” or “continued.”

I also caution to watch use of “ly” words. These words are often used to prop up weak verbs. For example: “She walked quickly” can be stronger if written “She strode” (or bounded or rushed). Likewise with the “to be” verbs (was, were, had been, etc.) especially when used with an “ing” verb. “She was walking” is better as “She walked.”

Some authors like to use taglines (he said, she said) plus an action: …she said, taking a sip of coffee. The simple action is sufficient: She took a sip of coffee.

You also don’t need to describe two actions at once: She nodded and smiled. Or: He puffed himself up and took a swig...

NO symbolA writer friend of mine is looking at every sentence in her manuscript and challenging herself to remove at least one word from each. She cut 14,000 words from a 400-page manuscript.

I challenge you to go one step farther, see if you can delete an entire phrase from a sentence, an entire sentence from a paragraph, a paragraph from a scene. Exterminate those “Pesky Pleonasms.”

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Sneaky Snuck

How did the word “snuck” sneak into the dictionary and into our “approved” form of language?

This word is one of my pet peeves, and if you are an editing client of mine, I will strongly suggest that you use the “proper” form “sneaked” unless it’s in dialogue.

I think my reaction stems from growing up in an isolated rural area where most people were not highly educated (no denigration intended—they were wonderful friends and neighbors and would do anything to help each other in times of need. But a word like “snuck” that was used as slang by people who also said, “The kids had their pitcher took at school today,” is an indication of that same lack of education or care about proper English.

It’s like “ain’t.” That’s in the dictionary too, but it’s still not “proper” to use, except in slang dialogue.detective

According to wiktionary.org, “snuck” is an irregular verb form that originated in the late 19th century dialect, but is now listed as the “simple past tense and past participle of sneak.” It’s considered the nonstandard past tense—basically meaning that “sneaked” is the preferred word-choice, but “snuck” is also acceptable.

Merriam-Webster’s Etymology: akin to Old English snIcan to sneak along, Old Norse snIkja.

Here’s a link to an interesting article on “Sentence First: An Irishman’s Blog About the English Language http://stancarey.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/snuck-sneaked-in/

And this is a snippet from The Word Detective’s Q&A, who seems to agree with me:

“Yes, ‘snuck’ is a real word, although it has always been classified as ‘substandard English.’ ‘Snuck’ first appeared in the 19th century as a regional variant of ‘sneaked,’ and is still considered colloquial English, but is apparently gaining in respectability among literate folk. Still, ‘snuck’ is not the sort of word to use on your resume, although ‘sneaked’ is usually not a big hit on resumes either, come to think of it. In general, however, my advice is to stick with ‘sneaked.’ Unless you’re talking to Elvis, of course. I happen to know he says ‘snuck’.” http://www.word-detective.com/back-c.html

What are some of your “pet peeve” words that have sneaked into the English Language?

Published in: on June 9, 2017 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sink, Sank, Sunk–Which do You Use?

I’ve been noticing more and more use of words like “sunk” as the simple past tense, by authors and even in newspaper writing. For example: I sunk into the easy chair.

Here are some other examples: I’ve heard people say I seen it, when they should say I saw it. Or they will use the past tense instead of the correct past participle: We could have went to the movie.

My editor’s hackles go up!

The simple past tense of “sink” is “sank.” The word “sunk” is used as the past participle (or past perfect) and always requires the “helper” word “has” or “had.”

Sinking shipSink: I sink the ship today.

I sank the ship yesterday.

I have sunk the ship many times.

 

See: I see it today.

I saw it yesterday.

I have seen it many times before.

 

Go: I go to the movie (or I’m going to the movie today).

I went to the movie yesterday.

I have gone to the movies many times.

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I remember memorizing many of these verb forms when I was in grade school. Maybe they don’t teach that anymore?

Don’t even get me started on “snuck.” (A blog for another time!)

Published in: on June 2, 2017 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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