Tag Archives: Word Games

Stop “Saying” Things — Rule #14 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #14

14: Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.” That’s not quite true (anyone who doubts this should track down a copy of Fletcher Flora’s Most Likely To Love), but it’s close enough. And don’t use adverbs as modifiers. Adverbs used in this way are ‘telling’ words (I told you rule 8 was rarely heeded!).

I’m going to partly agree here.  If you need to point out who said something, say:

“Mom went to the market,” Paul said

Now, to be clear… don’t spruce it up by saying “said hastily”, or “said sorrowfully” – That is what he is talking about with adverbs.  Use just plain old said and let the action around the word do the description for you.  Never add an “ly” word, and never say “he groaned” or “he snickered.” Use plain old said.

Now let’s talk about the “invisible word” thing. Said IS invisible, but only to an extent.  A recent editor I had challenged me to get rid of 90% of the word “said” in my manuscript. I exchanged it for actions instead of dialog tags.

Paul leaned over the counter. “Mom went to the market.”

See, there is no confusion as to who is speaking, and I got a little action in to.  The scene flows better.  I couldn’t believe the difference in my manuscript.

I just took a gander at my finished manuscript for “Fire in the Woods” and in 253 pages I only used the word “said” 133 times.  I scanned the first 32 pages, and most of those “saids” are in dialog or internal thought.

“You were supposed to stay home.”

“You said to stay home last night. I went out this morning.”

In those 32 pages, I had only used “said” as a dialog tag three times. (Yes, I am quite proud of that.)

If you are in the middle of a conversation, and you end every few sentences with “he said” or “she said” that little word is not going to be invisible anymore. It will drive your reader nuts.

I think I’ve suggested this exercise before, but I’ll do it again.  Challenge yourself.  Try to remove every “said” as a dialog tag.  You will need to leave a few, but if you can get rid of every occurrence possible and change it up with actions, your manuscript will be ten times stronger.

swish swivel squiggle

Click here to tweet: Stop “saying” things. Rule #14 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever from @jennifermeaton  http://wp.me/p1HIMV-1Fk



Rule #3 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #3

3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

This one is a bit easier to swallow.  Everyone knows about adverbs, right?  But using them is sometimes a hard habit to break.  If you find your work laden with adverbs, here is my suggestion:

1.      Make a copy of your work and save the original “just in case”

2.      Go through a chapter and delete all the adverbs.  Resist the desire to look at the sentence at this point.  Just delete.  Using the search feature and looking for “ly” will help with this. Look for “very” while you are at it, and just delete.

3.      Done?  Good! Now go back and read your chapter.  Most likely, if you’ve written a strong scene, you will not even notice they are gone.

Here’s a one sentance example from “Optimal Red”:

His heart beat rapidly in his chest as the doors opened.

His heart pulsed as the doors opened.

Go ahead!  Give it a try?  How did it go?  Were you able to strengthen your manuscript just by deleting?  Did you need to add a little more emphasis to replace the missing word?  Where did you decide to leave an adverb for flavor?


Rule #1 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

One of the on-line writing groups I belong to has devoted several chat sessions to the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie. Unfortunately, my schedule has not allowed me to participate in any of the discussion thus far, but I did take the opportunity to read the article—and I’m so glad I did.

For the next several weeks, I’m going to dissect this article/essay and really think over each section.  Since I remember things better when I write them down, I figured I might as well post them up here as a series and discussion topic.  This way we can all chat, and maybe learn from each other as well.

I can’t stress strongly enough that writing is subjective. We all strive for different goals. Consequently, we all need our own set of rules—and some of us don’t need rules at all! Personally, I like rules. If nothing else, it’s fun breaking them.  [Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie]

So let’s chat about number one, which defines that wacky word I’ve never heard of before…

1: Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase that can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant [Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie]

Now, I KNOW I don’t use “more or less” or “in any shape or form” because they would both set off my cliché alarm.  I have caught myself using “just” once in a while… but I’m not sure about the other two.  I’m going to go run a search on my nearly completed manuscript FIRE IN THE WOODS for these words.  You go take a look at yours, and let’s meet back here.

swish skid mark

Okay… Here’s the scoop.

There are 203 cases of “just” in my novel.  Probably too many for 270 pages, don’t you think?  It seems that most of them are in dialog, but let’s take a look at a few that aren’t:

Staying in the house was just too much to ask. This was the story of a lifetime. I just couldn’t let it slip by without getting something on film.

Okay, taken out of context the two “justs” next to each other scream at me. The second one will definitely go.  Now the first one… does the sentence sound fine without it?  Yes, of course it does, but I think the “just” in this case, is part of the teenage voice in the novel.  For now, I think the first one will stay—but knowing me it will start annoying me now, and get deleted eventually.

Here’s a “that” instance…

You promised that you wouldn’t let anything happen to me

Each switch up to “You promised you wouldn’t let anything happen to me”

swish skid mark

Here are my total counts:

Original appearances of “Just” = 203 (85% in dialog)

# After search/edit = 114 (mostly dialog)

swish skid mark

Original appearances of “Actually” = 22 (only 5 outside dialog)

# After search/edit = 21 (only 4 outside dialog)

swish skid mark

Original appearances of “That” = 448 (Yikes!)

# after search/edit = 395 – most in dialog, but only 63 could be removed without messing up the sentence. I will look at this again in the final read-through.

How’d you do?  What other words have you come across that can be deleted without changing the meaning of your sentence?


Road to Publication #23: – Never Ending Edits

Well, I submitted the Arcs, and like I thought, a few of the things I asked for were turned down. Basic mistakes like punctuation and spelling were all a no-brainers and fixed (I hope).

Wait — OMIGOSH!  I just looked at my countdown button and there are only 21 days left until I am officially published!  Holy freaking cow!

**Ahem** Sorry… Shaking off the freak out.  Back to business…

Okay… those final edits… Here’s what happened.

The Chapter Headers, which I wanted in Edwardian Font, were changed to an awkward Arial Bold that just made me cringe… So if you read it on kindle, imagine that being beautiful scrolling letters that make you feel like you are outside. Funny thing is, The PDF version looks fine, so it might be different depending on the E-reader.

I also was turned down on the Ellipses. I knew they would say no, because I am reading another one of J.Taylor Publishing’s novels now, and I found exactly the same problem in that novel.

In a closing ellipsis, JTP’s standard format is a space before and after… no-matter where it falls on the page. This means that if you have the sentence, “I tried to do it but …” the “…” could very well drop to the next line, and appear all by itself. To me, that completely ruins the mood of what you might be trying to do, but that is the publisher’s choice. They want all their novels in the same format. I need to understand and live with that.

One section of the book had part of the scene removed in editing, and I had to “bridge the gap” because it was obvious there was something missing. It was easy… just added a scenery sentence, but in doing so I accidentally repeated the word “eased” in two back to back sentences. They asked me what I wanted to do and I changed one “eased” to “settled”. Good catch JTP. Thanks!

Finally: A single word came in to play again. The editor had changed one word in a scene that I really liked. I tried to get my original word back, but they declined. The word that they choose just didn’t work for me, but after asking around for suggestions, I found another word that we could both agree upon and BAMO! Yay! We are finally done.

So, I guess they weren’t completely unending. They just felt that way for a little while.

The Arcs are now complete, and the next time I will see Last Winter Red it will be published as part of the Make Believe Anthology.

Ahhhh. Published. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Row 80 4/2 Writing to a Deadline Part 6: “Writing from the Outline”

My goal is to get published.  At the moment, I am working on a novella for an Anthology.  This is where I am:

If you’re just hopping into the insanity that is my writing life, check out my previous “Writing to a Deadline” posts or this won’t make sense.

I’d love to tell you that this outline is absolutely useless, but I’d be lying.  I think it is actually helping me.

I keep referring back to it, which is good, because it is keeping me on track.

Since I have my story clearly outlined, I know all of the “little carrots” that need to be dropped early in the story so they are not “big surprise veggie bombs” later.  I even caught myself forgetting one, and I had the chance to re-write a conversation that included that little snippet before it was too late.

In the first three scenes, I set up my world (and clearly defined it since it is a Futuristic Dystopian).  Introduced all the characters.  Gave the conflict of the main character and all subordinate characters.

I looked at my word count— 2,685.

Hmmmm.  The submission guidelines say the story needs to be between 5,000 and 10,000 words.  Can I finish it in that parameter?

My outline has 26 items/scenes/”things that need to happen”.  Some are more in depth than others.  I very carefully looked over the list, and placed a word count next to each number.  This is how many words I think I will need to get each idea down.

300 here, 500 there, 1000 there, 2000  for the climax.  You get the idea.

When I totaled it all up it came to 9,685.  That was a bit of a surprise.  I thought it would be higher.  However, I am also brutally aware that I only have 315 words to spare.

Now, my challenge is to hold to those numbers.  If I can’t finish each item it the allotted word count, I need to subtract words from somewhere else.

The writer’s retreat is here.

Two full days of writing with a goal to finish.

Too lofty a goal?  We’ll see.

Omigosh! You have to try this!

Like Kristina Stanley, who keyed me into this site… I may be behind the times and maybe everyone else knows about Wordle.  But if you don’t you just have to try it!

You load something you’ve written into it, and it gives you a visual representation of the frequency of your words.  The bigger the word, the more you use it.  You can then click on the randomize button, and it will show you different configurations.  It’s different pictures of your words!

I loaded my entire blog just for the fun of it.  This is what I came up with.

I guess I use the word “like” a lot.  Tee Hee.  “Brian” and “Mom” must appear because of my “Cricket Riders” posting.

As Kristina suggested, this has a practical use, too.  You can upload a chapter of your novel, and see if you overuse any words. This is what I came up with when I loaded Chapter 4 of my novel.  If you want to see it bigger, click on the picture.

It’s dead on, because Magellan is the main character, and Meagan is the only other person in the scene.  They are talking to each other through a locked door, and he is begging her to “please” don’t go.

This could be addictive.  Great idea, Kristina!