In thirty years as an editor, I've found the same words blight and bloat the style of many authors. One of them is 'sigh'.
In real life, people who constantly sigh soon get on our nerves. Few folks enjoy the company of sighers. The same applies to fiction: readers don't like characters who sigh a lot.
Yet, sighs creep into fiction and multiply like vermin. If you're not on your guard, your novel soon reads like this:
He sighed....She sighed deeply.... He heaved a deep sigh... A sigh escaped from her lips.... With a sigh, she did this... Sighing, she rose.... He looked at her and sighed...
Moreover, a character who sighs at the slightest trigger comes across as a wuss.
One sigh is enough for the reader's subconscious to file that character as a wimp. Two sighs make the character a wimpy wimp. By the time your heroine has heaved her third sigh, the reader has lost respect for her.
It's raining - sigh.
Aunt Agatha is coming - sigh.
Little Laura misbehaves - sigh.
The kitten scratches - sigh.
Work needs doing - sigh.
Another Monday - sigh.
Life goes on - sigh.
Use your wordprocessor's Find&Replace tool to count how many times you've used 'sigh', and then cut most of them.
By cutting the sighs, you'll make your writing tighter and your characters spunkier.
I recommend keeping just one or two sighs in the whole book: one for a wimpy minor character, and one in the second half of the book where your protagonist has real reason to sigh.
I'd love to hear from you. When you've checked your WiP for 'look' and 'turn', post a comment to tell me how many you've found, and whether you're going to cut some of them.
What other 'wordy words' do you think writers can cut from from their word diet?
If you have questions about writing style, or need advice on how to tighten your writing, please ask. I'll be around for a week, and I enjoy answering questions.
JANUARY ONLINE CLASS: THE WORD-LOSS DIET
If your writing style tends towards wordy waffling, if your critique partners urge you to tighten, and if editorial rejections point out dragging pace, this class may be the answer. It's perfect for toning your manuscript before submitting to editors and agents, or for whipping it into shape before indie publishing.
This is an interactive class with twelve lessons and twelve assignments, for writers who have a full or partial manuscript in need of professional polish. At the end of the class, you may submit a scene for individual critiques.
Dr Rayne's Word-Loss Diet is much more fun than depriving yourself of food, and you'll see real results fast.
The Word-Loss Diet, presented by Rayne Hall. 1-31 January 2012
Deadline: December 29, 2011. Fee: $25
'Author portrait by Kuoke; copyright Rayne Hall.'
Rayne Hall is the author of more than twenty books in different genres, published under several pen names with different publishers. Currently, she writes scary horror and outrageous fantasy fiction, and tries to regain the rights to her previously published works so she can re-publish them as e-books.
She has a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing, and has worked for nearly three decades in the publishing industry in Britain, Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, mostly as an editor.
After writing and editing, her great love is teaching, and she teaches online classes for writers: 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Scary Scenes', 'Writing about Magic and Magicians', 'Writing about Villains', 'Dr Rayne's Word-Loss Diet', 'SWOT for Writing Success' and more.
It's official! I finished The Ripper's Daughter, my vampire Victorian paranormal mystery for National Novel Writing Month on November 20 and verified it November 25.
I wanted to write about vampires, but I also wanted my story to be different. So I decided to make the relationship between Nathan and Stephen a symbiotic one. Stephen needed Nathan to drink his blood and Nathan had someone he could feed from without endangering other people's lives. Their relationship goes much farther, however, a sexual one they need to keep hidden from society. Not only that, but also continuing the charade of Stephen, Nathan's master, playing the part of his manservant.
What really inspired me to write this story, though, was Inspector Lewis. The show aired on Masterpiece Mystery while I was plotting my NaNo WIP. Not that the two have anything in common except I knew, after watching Inspector Lewis, I wanted Nathan to be a former Detective Inspector.
Who would I pit Nathan against? Then it came to me. Who is the most infamous murderer in Victorian history? Jack the Ripper. (Okay, there are others, but I'm going with the most well-known.) And what if Jack the Ripper weren't human? What if he were a werewolf, and only Nathan knew this? So the DI risked his life and all he had to become a vampire and stop the Ripper? But what if he failed?
I explore this throughout the story. The guilt Nathan feels at failing to catch the Ripper and the determination to stop him when he finds the Ripper has come to Louisville, Nathan's new home. Nathan now owns a saloon called The Cloak and Dagger. I wanted a place where he could get information but not resort to making him work as a police officer or as a reporter. Besides, both those jobs would require working in daylight, something Nathan can no longer do. He can go out in overcast weather but direct sunlight will cause considerable damage, even death. And if Nathan dies, so does Stephen and vice versa.
Although this is a first draft, I thought I'd share a short excerpt.Remember, this is from a draft and is not intended to be considered final.
I caught Stephen biting his lower lip, a worried expression on his face. Concern? He needn’t worry. After all, he turned me, knowing a vampire’s strengths and weaknesses. He knew I wouldn’t take foolish risks.
No, it was something else. Stephen hadn’t eaten or drunk much the last couple of days and seemed a bit sluggish and redder in the face, as if stricken with high blood pressure.
Something primal stirred in me. A faint coppery smell triggered an ache in my fangs which dropped slightly.
Our eyes met, Stephen’s blue ones darkening. He rose, pulling the brocade curtains shut against the moonlight and any passersby. We couldn’t risk complacency. To do so could put our lives in danger.
He crossed the room and sat on the sofa next to me. The light from the lamp glinted on his hair, throwing shadows across his face, the bridge of his aquiline nose. But my attention was drawn to his carotid artery. I licked my lips, desire pooling in my body, heightened by his nearness and the smell of blood. As my fangs continued to drop, my need grew and I shifted impatiently, eager to drink.
Stephen leaned his head back. I unbuttoned his shirt collar, pushing it aside to reveal pale flesh at the juncture of neck and shoulder. Leaning in, I breathed in the scent of soap and water, a clean smell.
He made no sound as I licked the skin, readying it. I looked down to see Stephen clench his fists and I wrapped my fingers around his wrist. The gesture served two purposes, to comfort him and to anchor myself against the ecstasy of drinking his blood.
Stephen closed his eyes. My breathing quickened, my heartbeat increased as adrenaline pumped through my bloodstream. In contrast, Stephen’s breathing and heart rate slowed as his heart struggled to pump the excess blood circulating through him.
Again, I marked the spot with a gentle swipe of my tongue, tasting salt. The ache in my fangs intensified and I became heady with passion, both for his blood and his body, which needed to be satisfied in that order.
I bit, incisors pricking his skin. A thin line of blood trickled free and I lapped at it. Within seconds I fed, my mind focused on Stephen and the pleasure this act gave both of us.
For him, it was relief. For me, it became an almost orgiastic experience.
His hand tightened on my leg, fingers pressing into my kneecap as I continued to drink. At first I worried I hurt him. But he assured me the sensation was one of pleasure-pain and far more preferable to the discomfort he felt when his body became gorged with too much blood.