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.