And is a useful word. It can, however, become as unsightly as duct tape slapping two otherwise lovely elements together. Editors often take issue with the word if it patches two complete–or unrelated–sentences. Once a common practice, long, complex sentences have gone the way of whale oil lamps. Today’s reader prefers shorter paragraphs and shorter sentences (an example of an acceptable use of the word and). Consider too that and can sometimes serve as the first word of a sentence, as long as it doesn’t appear too frequently as the opening word.
Patched sentence: He turned to leave the room and on his heels were the two dogs he’d chosen over his children.
Preferred and more potent: He turned to leave the room. On his heels were the two dogs he’d chosen over his children.
The word but is obviously necessary in storytelling. Its overuse can weaken its impact.
Okay: The principal’s executive assistant majored in efficiency, but no one could accuse her of excessive kindness.
Stronger: The principal’s executive assistant majored in efficiency. No one could accuse her of excessive kindness.
Novelists lean heavily on words like smile, grin, laugh, giggle, chuckle to express a character’s reaction. If a word like smile pops up again and again on the page, it will start to stand out as if written in bold font. It will draw attention to itself rather than keeping the reader in the flow of the story. The writer who uses imagination and creativity to find alternate expressions–or even other body language or action beats–to show what the word smile intends to convey will avoid letting the word become a stumbling block to good storytelling.
The reader’s mind is the force subconsciously at work when a single word is found repeated in proximity to its past use. Take a look at the example below that highlights the potent impact of a small change.
The lawyer took a brief look at the brief before him before removing his glasses and making eye contact with his client.
The lawyer glanced at the brief in his hands. With all the drama of a first year theater student, he removed his glasses and made eye contact with his client.
All writers inadvertently slip up with the use of its versus it’s. Readers, editors, and agents will appreciate the writer who conquers the dilemma once and for all. What some have found helpful for making one of those small changes with breakthrough potential is to consider the apostrophe in it’s as if it were the letter I in the two-words it is. In the word its, the S sticks to the word it, signifying possession.
It’s (it is) no wonder high school teachers are more stressed than ever.
Its (ownership, possession) correlation to student stress is clear.
This is another small change with big consequences for readers and industry professionals. Again, it’s (it is) easy to slip up, but a pattern of misusing either of these words is unprofessional for writers. Simply said, the apostrophe in you’re represents the missing letter A in you are. The letters in your are stuck together, no spacing, indicating possession.
Although uh and um are parts of speech (or lack of it) common in our communication patterns, they can be almost entirely eliminated in fiction dialogue and in nonfiction quotes. Find creative ways to show (not tell) that the character in fiction or subject of the nonfiction is stumbling, pausing, hesitating, or thinking.
Similarly, beginning a sentence with oh or well, although not unlike how we talk, is unnecessary and pace-slowing.
Rather than: “Oh, well, I thought we could order delivery and watch a movie.”
Try: “I thought we could order delivery and watch a movie.”
So is one of those words that will rise from the page as if shouting at the reader if used too frequently. If the word can be eliminated without weakening the sentence, it will likely strengthen the sentence.
Okay: On the worst Monday of all Mondays, my car battery died a quick, fanfare-less death. So I called for an Uber and prayed my boss had gotten stuck in traffic.
Better, stronger: On the worst Monday of all Mondays, my car battery died a quick, fanfare-less death. I called for an Uber and prayed my boss had gotten stuck in traffic.
You’ve heard it before. Just just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s (it is) a filler word supposedly meant for emphasis. Instead, it de-emphasizes what we intend to say.
Weaker: If he just knew how much trouble he’d caused me, he wouldn’t have dared gloss over his mistake.
Stronger: If he knew how much trouble he’d caused me, he wouldn’t have dared gloss over his mistake.