Friday, July 1, 2011

The joys of deletion

I've been pruning out adverbs and crutch words in my book. Crutch words are those phrases we rely on excessively without realizing it: maybe your character rolls her eyes every five pages, or shrugs constantly, or sighs like it's going out of style. Or maybe you've developed an unnatural attachment to the word "azure," and you find yourself using it describe the sky, the sea, the main character's eyes, his father's car, his girlfriend's tattoo, and the rug in his room. Or maybe it's the common words that spew forth from your fingertips with abandon: really, very, just.

I use the latter words as emphasis, or to keep my rhythm going, but I overuse them in first drafts. During editing, I often cut out half of them (or more). I love cutting a word and finding it makes the sentence stronger. Yes, I find my joy in strange things, but I am a writer, and we are a strange crew.

I find it fascinating to comtemplate the difference among these sentences:

Give me just a little bit of time to deal with how I feel about that.
Give me just a little time to deal with how I feel.
Give me a little time to deal with that.
Give me time.

Some of those words are unnecessary padding, and some of them may be right or not depending on the characters and the context. "Give me time," might be beautifully succinct or it might be terse. But the first sentence there is probably overdressed for any occasion.