Posted in better writing, editing, good writing, how to be more descriptive, how to write, learning to write, rewrite, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice, writing better

The Dreaded “It”

it-exampleEver read a piece of writing that drove you nuts, because it kept using the word it? Now sometimes it can come in handy. Really it can, but a lot of times it can be overused to the point of being annoying. And sometimes it just leaves the reader wondering exactly what you meant by “it”. It’s one of those words you avoid using if at all possible.

A technique I use to spot all the “its” and determine if each one should stay or go the way of all bad writing is to ask myself some simple questions…

  • Do I really need this “it” here?
  • Can I use another word to describe the “it” better?
  • And last but certainly not least, can the reader understand what “it” truly means?

After asking these questions, I usually find myself changing the “it” to another word or phrase, and yep it the text definitely reads better, and it the message is that much clearer.

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Posted in adjectives, better writing, descriptive, editing, good writing, grammar, great writing, how to be more descriptive, how to write, ly rule, ly words, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

The LY Rule

It’s a habit that the budding writer is apt to make. In fact, many writers can put years into writing without learning a very important rule of a proper writing technique I like to call the ly rule. Have you ever noticed how saturated some works can be with words  like gladly, fairly, or brightly? Sure, there needs to be more description in stories, but make sure it’s the right kind of description.

It’s usually a good idea to use less adverbs and adjectives instead of more. It’s all about being as specific as possible and showing your reader what’s going on without resorting to the ly. So that means beefing up your nouns and verbs (especially the action verbs). But ly words are sneaky little suckers, so let’s take a look at some examples to see some ways ly usage can be reduced.

EXAMPLE 1:
She cooked over a hot stove and constantly pushed her blond sweat-matted hair out of her face as she stirred the pot.

So let’s rewrite it without the ly word constantly…

She cooked over a hot stove, pushing her blond sweat-matted hair out of her face for what seemed the hundredth time, while stirring the pot.

OR

She cooked over the hot stove as sweat-matted hair obstructed her vision. Anna swiped it back cursing her blond strands, while stirring the pot.

If you notice taking out the ly constantly you add more description than if you’d left constantly in the sentence. What does constantly actually do for your sentence. Not much, constantly is an ambiguous word. It really doesn’t tell the reader much at all and leaves a lot for interpretation. This is actually the case for most ly words.

Words like quickly, darkly, considerably… How quickly? Did she run as fast as a tiger, or was she faster than a speeding bullet? Big difference right? How darkly? Was the room as dark as a full moon night, or darker than the eye of a black hole? How considerably? Did he walk as far as the mail box down the drive or walk a full marathon? Are you starting to see a pattern here? If you can be specific, do it, because it will add the extra punch to your story that will set yours above others.

Let’s do another sentence for good measure…

EXAMPLE 2:

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was reasonably safe.”

You can write this sentence a few ways…

You can take the world reasonably out all together and say…

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was a safe one?”

OR

You could leave it and put emphasis on the word reasonably with italics to show a sarcastic tone…

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was reasonably safe.”

…The ly serves a purpose of bringing attention to the word, which in this case you want.

OR

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.”I know the mountains this time of night is a dangerous place. I hope it wasn’t too perilous for you both.”

So you see there are multiple ways that you can avoid the ly words or make them work for you. It’s a matter of knowing what context you want to bring to your story. You’ll also notice that when taking out ly words you usually have to use more than one word to replace that word. So yes, it will up your word count overall to take them out, but the benefits will far outweigh this. In fact you may find that the more you write the more concise you tend to be.

It isn’t possible to take out ALL ly words, but you should try to get rid of as many as possible. I struggle with this ly rule all the time and often find myself having to go back many times to make corrections. So believe when I say, this is a rule that ALL writer’s have a problem with, but it’s a battle worth the fight. The next time you sit down to write ask yourself this. How many ly words do you think you could cut?