Sunday, September 28, 2014


Economy is one hallmark of good writing, so writers must learn how to cut the clutter. In order to eliminate wordy phrases and expressions from your writing, first you should add the terms redundancy, circumlocution, and tautology to your vocabulary.

A redundant expression says the same thing twice, as in raise up (rise up), swallow down, and follow behind. Other common redundancies:

(actual) facts
(advance) warning
(all-time) record
(armed) gunman
attach (together)
(basic) fundamentals
blend (together)
(brief) moment
cancel (out)
circle (around)
combine (together)
(completely) destroyed
drop (down)
enter (in)
few (in number)
green (in color)
grow (in size)
join (together)
kneel (down)
lift (up)
meet (together)
mix (together)
outside (of)
(past) experience
(past) history
penetrate (into)
(personal) friend
reason is (because)
retreat (back)
round (in shape)
(serious) danger
share (together)
shiny (in appearance)
surrounded (on all sides)
(total) destruction
(true) facts
(ultimate) goal
(unexpected) surprise
(very) pregnant
(very) unique
warn (in advance)
write (down)

A circumlocution includes a string of words that go all around the block to express one simple idea. Examples: in the event that instead of if; at the present time instead of now; and on a regular basis instead of regularly. I have seen this last circumlocution so often in all kinds of writing that I have become allergic to it. Such expressions are not ungrammatical or repetitious, but they should be avoided because they’re wordy. More examples: a large proportion of (many); am in possession of (have); caused injuries to (injured); destroyed by fire (burned); draw the attention of/to  (show, point out); during the time that (while); give rise to (cause); had occasion to be (was); in this day and age (today).

A tautology is “repetition of the same words or use of synonymous words in close succession.” Examples:

A major nuclear disaster could have been sparked by . . .

. . . who died of a fatal dose of heroin

pair of twins

weather conditions

Another example is Yogi Berra’s famous “It was déjà vu all over again.”

Other tautologies are of this type: each and every, one and the same, any and all, when and if, and separate and distinct.

It’s easy to use superfluous words inadvertently and tough to detect them in your own prose. That’s why a good copy editor can be of great help to writers.

Paul Thayer

Your book editor

Monday, September 22, 2014

Body parts

Unless you are writing a horror novel in which human or animal limbs move about on their own, avoid assigning body parts a point of view that is independent from the character who possesses them. Examples: his eyes stared; her feet walked; his arm reached. Change to: he stared; she walked; he reached.

The most common body part that writers use is the eyes, as in “His eyes never left her.” Much ickier are expressions such as “She dropped her eyes to the floor.” An obvious question to ask with this one is “Did they bounce?”

Note that it’s okay to say “He eyed her.” When that happens, let’s hope her eyeballs aren’t on the floor.

Paul Thayer

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Scenes: show, don’t tell

Instead of beginning a scene with omniscient narration, which is like voiceover in a movie, begin with a framed scene, allowing your characters to interact. In other words, SHOW your story instead of TELLING it. To show your story, you need to write dramatic scenes. Then your readers can sit back and watch the action and listen to the dialogue and the other “sound effects” as if they were watching a play being presented on a stage. That’s how you should think about writing fiction: You are presenting a stage play in novel form. When you do that, your readers will experience an emotional response. That’s the only way to engage your audience. People read novels for emotion, not information.

What do I mean by "framing" a scene? You must settle your readers quickly into each scene by doing the following:

  • Identify the setting and give the reader a sense of where we are.
  • Let the reader know how much time has passed since the previous scene.
  • Indicate who your point-of-view character is and describe his/her frame of mind.
  • Mention everyone who is present so that a character doesn’t suddenly pop up out of nowhere or so that character’s dialogue doesn’t come as a surprise to the reader.
  • Subtly place any props your characters need, so when they reach for a briefcase or gun or chair, the reader will already have that object in their vision of the setting.

Offer these required elements in a different order each time for variety.

Remember that you must plan a scene before you write it. I have read too many first novels that have scenes that have obviously not been planned. To plan a scene you must first ask yourself, "What is the purpose of this scene" and "What do I want to accomplish in this scene?"

Every scene should serve a purpose. To keep this in mind, tape this list to your monitor:


• Move the main plot line ahead

• Present necessary information

• Introduce or develop characters

• Create atmosphere or develop setting

• Introduce or worsen a problem

• Solve a problem

• Set up a later scene

The scene should serve at least one of these purposes. Also be sure to note the primary action that will occur in the scene.

Paul Thayer