Today I want to address words and how to make them count. I know I’ll get some pushback on this from the masses but remember: these are only my opinions. Use what works for you.
When I start mentoring someone new, I ask them to go through their story and remove a certain word first thing. The word, “that”. This word is what I call an empty calorie (junk food) among the serving of healthy words. It’s become overused these days because it’s common speak (street talk, as I call it).
Try it. Go through one paragraph and remove the word that if it doesn’t change the sentence. Now read it again. Does it sound more concise? Do you miss the word if it’s gone? Does it give your sentence a “gut punch” effect? Finally, does it make your words and their delivery sound more confident?
Trust me, I still have to go through and remove them from my own writing. What I’ve noticed, however, is it’s such an overused and unnecessary word, it drenches the pages. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled 6 books off the shelf to peruse the first page, how many jumped off the page at me. I couldn’t continue reading because the sheer number of “that’s” took me out of the story before it ever began.
Go through your own story in Word. Do a word search for “that” and see how many times you’ve used it. Is it 20 times? 50? More?
The next step after removing unnecessary “that’s” is to search for any word ending in -ly.
Here’s where I get challenged most often: using an -ly adverb is lazy. I know. Hearing it stings. That’s what mentoring is, though. Correcting bad habits and creating good ones.
Ok, why do we remove them?
Reason number 1: Most -ly adverbs (quickly, slowly, quietly) can be considered perspective.
Example: He backed up slowly.
How slow? If someone is backing up, are they surprised? Afraid? Dizzy?
Try using your words and make them count.
He took a few steps back. Each step was tentative, seeking the ground beneath him to keep from tripping.
I raised my hand in slow motion, the room spinning around me.
Unsure of where the chair was, I took one slow step back before the other followed.
See how it gives the sentences a better visual? Instead of using “slowly” I gave a better idea of what slowly looked like.
Most times, you can change the position of a few words to eliminate the -ly word and it will make the sentence sound more confident, leaving the reader with a solid description of what’s happening. Adding -ly gives a meek sound to your words and gives the impression of a week vocabulary.
Are you up for the challenge? Give this a try and let me know if it worked for you. Do you feel it made your story more confident sounding? I’d love to hear from you!
If you love these tips and want more, please comment and share!