Tag Archives: Word

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 #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?


When your novel comes up short

I just finished my latest novel.

Yay!  Right?

Umm, well not really.

For the first time in my life … My novel came up short.

I normally write huge, sweeping epic novels.  The last one I had to hack up into five novels.  The one before had three parts.  My mind just thinks “big”.

This time, I tried to center my mind on a one-week timeframe.  I carefully plotted it out, and assigned word counts.  I thought it would be close, but I didn’t expect to be WAY OFF my target word count.

Do I have stuff to add?  Well, yes, thank goodness.  There are a few things that I found I needed at the end that will need to be introduced earlier on.  The problem is, I need about 12,000 words, and I imagine the additions will only total to about 1,000 words.  11,000 more to go.

Yikes again.

I’ve edited 23 pages, and have added 230 words.  I figure the total added for general editing will be about 2000 words.  That’s 9,000 to go.

I don’t want to write unnecessary scenes just to make word count.  I wrote tightly.  Everything is spot-on.

Maybe a little too spot on.

Has anyone else ever had this problem?

 Well I don’t like it.  Nope. Not at all.

By Request: Who verses Whom

Before I get on to this, I have an overall opinion (I know, shocking)

The English language is evolving rapidly.  Whom is one of those words that is unfortunately falling into the realm of obsolescence.  Mainly, this is from lack of use due to people not understanding how to use it.

Also, when you do use it, whether or not you use it correctly, you end up sounding “hoity-toity” because it is one of those words that has become synonymous with “upper class” for some reason.

So, if you don’t mind sounding hoity toity, and you can stop in the middle of a sentence to figure it out… this is what you need to do:

Decide if the “who or whom” is replacing the word “he/she or him/her”



***Let’s explore this, shall we?***

Who/whom fed the dog?

Eric (he) fed the dog. (Chloe is a happy puppy)


Therefore, Who is correct.  “Who fed the dog?”

Who/whom should I ask?

Should I ask for he? (NO) Should I ask for him? (YES)


So, Whom is correct.  “Whom should I ask?”

(yeah, like anyone is actually going to say that, right?  Do you hear the hoity-toityness?

Here is an example from Grammar Girl:

We all know who pulled that prank.


We want to know on whom the prank was pulled.

Now, let’s be serious.  Does anyone see what I’m seeing?  If you tried to use the second “whom” example in your novel, unless you are writing Historical Romance, people would laugh at you.  Who in their right mind is going to say “We want to know on whom the prank was pulled.”?

You guessed it:  no one.

My suggestion?  Use who, even if it is not correct… especially if it is in speech.  Unless you have a character that is a grammarian, I see no reason to use the word “whom” in realistic speech anymore.

Sad, but true.  Goodbye, whom.  We will miss you.  Please say hello to “whilst” for me.

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.

Facebook Trademarks. Relax, guys.

I’ve seen a lot of articles about “Big Bad Facebook” lately, and their latest (debatably sneaky) ploy to trademark the word “book”.

I think a lot of the hysteria is caused by people who don’t really know what they are talking about.  In my opinion, this is overreaction.

Have you logged in to Facebook lately?  Did you get a message that you need to agree to their new Terms and Conditions before proceeding?  Hmmm.  Did you read them before blindly agreeing?  Most of us don’t even look at those agreements before clicking “agree”, and Facebook is relying on that.

But if you did blindly agree, is it a big deal?

Not as much as people are saying.  If you are chewing your nails, this is what you agreed to:   “You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Book and Wall), or any confusingly similar marks, except as expressly permitted by our Brand Usage Guidelines or with our prior written permission.” **

What is causing all the hysteria, is that people translated this to mean “I cannot use the words Face, Poke, Book and Wall ever again or I will be sued.”

No, this is not the case.  Facebook is just protecting its very powerful name.  Personally, I understand that.

Yes, you can use the word “Face”.  You do not have to delete it out of your novel.  However, you cannot call you social network site “MyBook” or “FacePage”.  Either one of these is calling attention that your site is similar to Facebook, and you are drawing on Facebook’s popularity to increase your own.

In another example, I cannot change this site’s name to “JenniferBook”, because I would be making an obvious connection to the social network giant.

So, did you blindly agree?  If you did, don’t worry about it.  Just don’t infringe on their logo or name… which should be common sense anyway… in the same way as you can’t call a store “Shirts R Us” if you are not affiliated with “Toys R Us”  (Kids R US was a Toys R Us affiliated company.)

Relax, guys.  Facebook isn’t stealing words out of the dictionary.

Note:  I am not a lawyer, and I am not in any way qualified to give legal advice.  This article articulates my opinions formulated from my understanding of Trademark Law.

**Note2:  I could not find this offensive quote in their terms myself, but enough people are freaking  out about it that it must be there somewhere

Confusing Me and I… Ahhh the never ending quandary of a writer

There was a great article on Dictionary.com this week about confusing “I” and “me”

Click over here if you’d like to take a look.   http://hotword.dictionary.com/youandme/

Misuse of these two words is really common.  I hear people do it all the time.  Even in my own house, which I try to keep as grammatically correct as possible.

The words “I” and “me” get my husband and me into a rumble once in a while.  He will correct one of my sons, and then I will correct him, because my son was right.  In our culture in the USA, there is so much “overcorrection” of the word “I” that it is starting to sound right when people use it incorrectly.

Let’s take the first sentence in the previous paragraph.  “The words get my husband and me into a rumble.”  It sounds wrong, doesn’t it?  I actually typed it incorrectly the first time (yeah, I am admitting it) because “I” just sounded right.  I then went back and corrected it.

How can you tell if you are wrong?  Take out the other person, and leave the sentence the same.  Let’s try it.

The words get my husband and me into a rumble

The words get me into a rumble.

The second sounds correct, so we did it right.  In this example, “My husband and me” is correct.  Now, let’s do it incorrectly

The words get my husband and I into a rumble.

The words get I into a rumble.

Oh!  That didn’t work too well, did it?  In this case “My Husband and I” is incorrect.  If you are ever unsure, just take out the second subject and see how it works out.

Need an example when “I” would be correct?  Well, ask and ye shall receive!

George and I should have dinner sometime

I should have dinner sometime

That sounds good.  Okay, how about “Me?”

George and me should have dinner sometime

Me should have dinner sometime.

Oh, Yuck!  That didn’t work at all.  So, in this example, “I” is correct.

The problem is, that “You and I” has been so OVER-CORRECTED, that the word “I” almost always sounds correct.  Even to me.  In the first example, I really wanted to write “My husband and I.”

This is a case of English being an evolving language.  As a writer, you need to make a choice to follow the natural progression of language, or to adhere to “correctness”.

Honestly, between us… your reader probably won’t even notice.

The questions is— which camp your editor/publisher is in?

Ahhh… the quandaries of a writer.







Confessions of a Suddenly Smiling Stepper:What stupid writing thing did your Beta Reader find this week?

I have to reiterate that Beta Readers are just the greatest thing EVER.  Especially if you can find someone who is almost as anal as you are!

I just had a beta reader finish a 50-page excerpt.  She made some good comments, but the best thing she did was highlight every time I used the words “Step”, “Smile”, and “Suddenly”.

I read over her comments, and initially thought “it’s not that bad”.  Then, like a good little author, I closed it, took a deep breath, and came back to it another day.  What I did the second time, is used my favorite “Search and Replace Tip” to count how many times I used these words.

For those of you who have not read my previous article, here is the trick:


Find the word you want to count.  Let’s use “suddenly”.  Open up the “Find/replace” feature in Word.  Search for “suddenly”, and replace with “suddenly”.  JUST MAKE SURE YOU TYPE IT EXACTLY THE SAME WAY so it replaces it with exactly the same word.  When you “Replace All” it will give you a count of how many times it replaced “suddenly”.  BOOM! You now know how many times you used your word.

I found that I used “suddenly” 13 times in 50 pages.  That means one of my characters “suddenly” did something every four pages or so.  I didn’t even realize it.  Absolutely unacceptable!  The funny thing is, I was able to delete almost every one with no other changes, and it was fine.  It was just an unnecessary word.

She is the second person to point out that my characters smile a lot.  So I did my little trick.  YIKES!  Someone smiled 30 times!  That’s once every page and a half!  I sure to have a lot of happy characters, although many were smiling while thinking mean thoughts.  Yes, I went thorough and made some changes.

Next check:  the word “stepped”.  Holy Cow!  In the 50 pages, it counted the word “step” 94 times.  That means someone “stepped” almost twice on every page.  I knew I had characters “stepping” but not quite that much!  Most of the time it is just to get movement into the story, so I need to work that out, and give them different things to do rather than walking around all over the place.

Confessions of a Suddenly Smiling Stepper… even when you know not to do stupid things, you may just read over it when it is your own story.

Beta Readers… they are worth their weight in gold.

If you don’t have a Beta Reader, go get one… but keep away from Ravena.

She’s MINE!  Mine, do you hear me?

***she cackles***


I’ll set her free in 300 pages.

Thanks Ravena!



Sorting Out Your Feedback Comments: Dealing with Conflicting Criticism

If you have had several people reading your work, conflicting opinions are common.  But what do you do with them?  Your mother says you are brilliant, but then you find this person you’ve never met who thinks your novel needs all these changes!  Huh?

***Smile*** I wish my Mom was still around to tell me how brilliant I am.

First of all, ditch your mother’s opinion.  Her job in life is to support you no matter what.  She thought your mud pies were works of art, remember?  Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother… all those great people.  Let them read, but be careful of their praise, no matter how critical you think they normally are.

Anyway… This is where I am going with this post…

I had one beta left from my previous beta run that recently finished a second read of HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT.  He told me that the words I chose were too childlike, and even if I was writing for a teen audience, I should not insult their intelligence, so I should insert some more adult words in the narrative.

In this new and final round of beta readers– reading pretty much the same manuscript– another beta (I don’t know either of them personally, by the way) told me that some of my words are too mature in my narrative for a YA audience.

Talk about contradictions!  One says too mature, one says too childlike.  Exactly the same manuscript.

Mulling it over, I am sticking to my guns and not “smartening it up”.  I appreciate an easy read.  I am sure I’m not the only one.  Even with the Kindle (easier to look words up in the dictionary)  unknown words are annoying, and I either totally ignore them, or if I do look them up, I have spoiled the pacing.  That is not what I want to do to my reader.  I did replace one word he complained about, but I replaced it with a “common speech” word.

Now… dumb it down further?  Hmmmm.

Reader #2’s comments are valid.  The older-sounding words are in the narration, but in a ten-year-old’s POV.  Would he really have the word “furrowed” in his narrative self-conscious?  (It is not inner thought by the way.  That would be a no-brainer.)

In this case, he “furrowed his brow.”  I changed this to “Twisted his brow” and I have to admit she was right.  It flows much better and sounds natural.  She also suggested that no ten-year old even knows they have hair follicles.  (He is getting his hair pulled, and the follicles spring back to his scalp when they let go.)

The follicles I am leaving.  I didn’t find that one as obtrusive.

There is another point when someone furrows their brow, but it is in an adult POV.  That one I will probably leave as well, since the perspective is more “mature”.

So— Sorting out contradicting feedback…

One person says apples, the other person says bananas.  I reviewed their suggestions and gave them strawberries.   Everything I’ve read said don’t try to make one person happy, write to the masses.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like strawberries.

Have you ever had such completely contradictory assessments?  What did you do?

ROW 80 Check in 10-26-2011

What a week!  And it’s only Wednesday!

I actually finished the first draft of my short story.  It ended up at 2,259 words.  I originally wanted it for a writing contest that was 1500 words.  I could probably cut it down, but I would lose the feel and emotion of the story, so I guess this contest is out for me.  Stinky.  Anyone know of any 2500 word short-story contests?

My Beta-Buddy Jenny Keller Ford won first place for her short story “Baby” on the Midlife Collage Writers contest.  She was also a semi-finalist for Brenda Drake’s  Can you leave us breathless” contest.  Be sure to scoot over to her site and give her a cyber high-five.  She’s on a roll!

No, I was not a finalist in the “breathless” contest.  I read just about every entry.  I was the only middle grade story, so I was not surprised.  I couldn’t compete with sensual kissing, demons, death, gore, drugs, and murder.  Nope, even I will not do that to my kids J.    No biggie.  As usual, I learn something from every contest.  I think I even picked up some new followers from this one “Hi guys!”  I actually enjoyed reading a lot of those entries.  There are a lot of talented people out there.

Jury’s still out on the 50 word synopsis contest.  That one’s being judged by an agent… still holding my breath on that one.  HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is more up the right alley for that contest.

Ugh.  The bad news.  I started out with 119,567 words in my novel, and I wanted to cut it down to 100,000.  Well…  Sigh. I was doing really great until I hit about page 100.  I had to remove an unnecessary POV and change it to the MC.  In the first draft, the character looks up and sees the MC doing something supernatural.  It was quick, it was easy.  Now, the MC has to feel it, experience it, all from within this huge encompassing scene.  Honestly, I really like how it is coming out.  There is much more feeling.  HOWEVER… now I have 119,845 words.  And that’s after 100 pages of editing done already!  Ugh.  I am in trouble.

Still not daunted!  Trucking along!

Jennifer Eaton