Guest Post: Watch Word List

Note from Lara—I’ve invited Lana Wood Johnson to share her list of “watch words” with my readers. These are commonly overused words she looks for while revising. If you’d like to propose a guest post, please fill out my submission form. I’m going to jump in and make a couple of comments within Lana’s article. Anything coming from me will be in italics and be bracketed, [like this].

Lana’s Watch Words

When I finished my first manuscript and started my first round of revisions, I was genuinely lost for how to proceed. I read the MS through, made the fixes I could see, then sent it off to all my well-meaning friends for a Beta round.

I assumed my Betas would cover my story structure feedback, so I plunged into Google to research how one copyedits. I went to school on the thousands of ways other people have said I should revise. I also joined Twitter around that time.

As someone who develops processes and fixes problems for a dayjob, I started noticing trends. The advice for copyedits fell into two very basic camps: words the author overuses and words editors just hate to see.

So I sat down and created what I call my Watch Word list.

watch list 1 – My Specific Words

Every author has them, the specific words that they fall back on. Turns of phrase they don’t realize they’re throwing in everywhere or a body part they’re overly fond of referencing. [I call these “pet words” or “pet phrases”]

Mine is eyes. I had one CP ask if I was obsessed.

I also found myself using the word “instead” a lot more than I needed to.

Thus, when I went through my second heavy round of revision, I had the brilliant idea of trying to put my whole MS into a word cloud.

Wordle fit all my needs. It’s cloud based. It’s free. It does a fabulous job of removing the “standard” English words like I, the, and, etc. It doesn’t store anything on their servers.

Running the MS through their Java leaves me with the words that appear more in my writing than in standard English. They’re bright, clear, and right in front of me in a way that cannot be denied.

Figure 1 – Word Cloud for my First MS NECESSITY

wc1

Figure 2 – Word Cloud for my Latest WIP CLANDESTINE MENAGERIEwc2

The first thing I notice are the names of my primary characters. They should be large—I use them a ton. But there are other words that probably don’t need to be quite that large. In my case, it’s the word ‘know’. Because, my characters just know things, I guess.

But, if you compare my two clouds, you’ll see that the different MSs have different watchwords. The first is Contemporary Fantasy, the second is High Fantasy. NECESSITY was the first book I ever finished. CLANDESTINE MENAGERIE started after I’d figured out that I overused “look” and “eyes”.

The words placed on the list for NECESSITY were: know, look, eyes, like, think, and one.

The words added from CLANDESTINE MENAGERIE were: back and head.

2 – Editor’s Peeves

I know going in that I can’t write the way every editor wants me to write; I won’t even try. But there are some words they hate that make sense:

  • Mark Twain’s quote about “very” comes to mind.
  • The memory of my 10th Grade English Teacher’s ranting about “like.”
  • Every author’s personal war against the word “that.”
  • The constant exhortations we hear to eliminate all adverbs. [everything is fine in moderation!]
  • An amazing panel at CONvergence where a group of authors taught me that the less you use “and,” the stronger your writing will be. [I’ve never heard this one—I wonder if they were referring to parataxis, one of my favorite literary devices.]

I decided to add some of their words: the ones I noticed in my own writing, the ones that resonated with me, the ones that reflected the kind of writing I wanted to do.

Some I use more than others.

Some I use less but want to watch for anyway.

How I Use the List

Ok, so, great, it’s a list. Obviously I’m not going to improve all my writing just by knowing it’s there and these are the words on it. It’s a long list—I can’t keep them all in my head. So when I do a major revision, this is my process.

First, I load the manuscript onto my Kindle which allows me to treat it exactly like a regular book. I forbid myself from editing at all as I re-read the entire story. The most I let myself do is highlight a particularly bad section. As I read, I find myself getting lost in the story, and that’s great! I end up falling back in love with my characters and my story. I learn to trust myself and my writing. But I also start seeing whatever my CPs were trying to tell me in their feedback.

When I’m done with my re-read, I do my heavy lifting revision: swap out scenes, revise dialogue, eliminate characters. It’s basically drafting all over again, which introduces new errors.

Here’s where the watch words come in. After drafting, I do what I call a Language Pass. This is where I search each word individually and revise only their sentences.

BUT!

Here’s the key of the whole Watch Words list! I ONLY revise these words in the Narrative. Dialogue is a separate. My modern high school teens get to say “really” and “just” as much as they feel like in their conversations.

I also don’t take out every single instance of these words. I evaluate each sentence. I’m looking for how many times I’ve used the same word in the same page, scene, chapter, and/or story. This list doesn’t work for find and replace. It’s meant to help me evaluate the strength of my prose.

My final step is another read-through, but this is more for grammar and language. I read the whole thing aloud. Doing this helps me evaluate the dialogue. This is where I confirm the grammar as I understand it and re-fix the sentences I totally messed up by removing one of my watch words.

In the end, the list is not a be-all, end-all. You will not read my stories and find I’ve eliminated all the words from my list. My hope is that you barely notice them. Because the entire purpose of this list, of writing, of language in general, is that the individual words become invisible and the story is what remains the focus.

The List

[Note: look for different forms of the words below. Tense (past, present, perfect, progressive) and person (first, second, third) will affect the word endings. The most common variations are -ing, -s, and -ed suffixes.]

-ly
A lot
Again
Almost
And
Back
Be/Is/Had/Has/Was/Were/Would
Began/Begin [“Begin to” and “start to” tend to be unnecessarily wordy—cut]
Eyes
Feel/Felt
Glance
Going
Head
Hear
Instead
Just [See also “even” and “so” for overused adverbs many authors miss]
Know
Like
Look
Of Course
Of them
One
Over
Really
Saw/See
Seem
Sit down/Sat down
Smile
Start
Stood up/Stand up
That
Then
Think/Thought
Toward
Try/Tried
Turn
Very
Which

[To see my (Lara’s) additions to this list, see Overused Words You Should and Shouldn’t Delete]

About Lana

Lana Wood Johnson lives in Min­nesota with her too-perfect hus­band and their two less-than-perfect Eng­lish Bull­dogs. She writes young adult fantasy novels, watches an excessive amount of Korean dramas, and consults on business processes to keep out of trouble. Find her on Twitter @muliebris

lanawoodjohnson

Friday Reads: THE FANGIRL’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Sam Maggs

Friday Reads is a new series on Write, Edit, Repeat. I’ll only be blogging about my favorites (no room for negativity here), and I’ll end with a writing prompt. Be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already, and then you won’t miss out. Adult fiction, YA fiction, MG, graphic novels, picture books—I’ll cycle through them all, sometimes posting monthly, sometimes weekly.

For the archive of Friday Reads posts, visit bit.ly/LaraReads.

I also allow guest reviews! Today I’ve got Caitlin Vanasse reviewing The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs.

Read her review, then enter for a chance to win a copy of the book!

First Impressions

The Cover

Fangirl_final_72dpi

The Blurb

Fanfic, cosplay, cons, books, memes, podcasts, vlogs, OTPs and RPGs and MMOs and more—it’s never been a better time to be a girl geek. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life, a fun and feminist take on the often male-dominated world of geekdom.

With delightful illustrations and an unabashed love for all the in(ternet)s and outs of geek culture, this book is packed with tips, playthroughs, and cheat codes for everything from starting an online fan community to planning a convention visit to supporting fellow female geeks in the wild.

Reading

First, thank you so much to Lara for letting me borrow on her blog today to review The Fangirls Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geek Girls by Sam Maggs.

When I heard that Sam Maggs, editor of The Mary Sue, was writing a guide to girl-geekdom, I was quite intrigued. As a girl who grew up watching Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager, borrowing my brothers Nintendo Power, and reading every essential comic collection my library had, Ive considered myself a geek girl (or a nerd) for quite sometime. When I had the opportunity to request a copy for review from Quirk Books, I was more than a little excited. (Disclaimer: I requested and received this book from the publisher, Quirk Books, for review.)

The Fangirls Guide to the Galaxy is a reference book in four sections: An introduction to different fandoms, an introduction to girl geek spaces on the internet, a guide to conventions, and a section on geek girl feminism. Interspersed between each section are super short (3-question) interviews with prominent women in geekdom.

I found this to be a good reference; there were definitely things I already knew, which I think will be true of most readers, but there was plenty of new information and things well said in a way that I found really helpful for figuring out how to express them myself.  My personal favorite section was the one with advice for conventions (probably because Im at a point where Im just starting to think about going to conventions, and so it was the most helpful personally), but I think depending on where the reader is, different sections might be more useful.

Right before picking this up I saw a review mention that the feminism section seemed a bit tacked on.  I think the meat of that section was actually really great. It contained an extensive list of recommendations of great female characters in various forms of media (books, movies, television, anime, comics, and manga) and a short section on being critical consumers of the media we love, both of which I think any geek girl would be interested in. But I think the transition to that section was really poor. Rather than suggesting that Fandom can, in some ways, be what we want it to be, it felt pushy rather than convincing. It was really a disservice to the chapter and ill-fitting considered with the tone of the rest of the book.

I also felt that the interviews, although a nice element to break up the chapters, were too short to really provide much substance. They werent really personalized, were fairly superficial questions, and were less than a page each. They function more as a list of interesting women in geekdom to follow than interesting content on their own.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book and could see myself referencing it or lending or gifting it to friends.

But, because I received this finished copy from the publisher Id like to give you an opportunity to have it.  Im giving away the finished copy I was given. I did read it, so its gently used, and Ill be shipping from the US, so this giveaway is only open to US shipping addresses. But if youre interested and eligible please do enter below!

About Caitlin

Caitlin Vanasse was raised on StarTrek Voyager and Bill Nye as well as princesses and puppies. Never afraid to call herself a nerd, you can find her on the internet talking about books on Youtube at BookChats and retweeting all manner of things on Twitter @CaitlinVanasse.

Recommendations

Follow Caitlin’s YouTube channel, BookChats, for plenty of book recommendations from this geeky girl reviewer, or read The Fangirl’s Guide for recommendations. Also read the comments here for favorite female

Writing Prompt

Two options today:

A. Write a short creative nonfiction story or poem about a geeky experience you’ve had.

B. Choose two fictional females and write a short story or scene in which they meet.

Giveaway

If you live in the US and would like the chance to win a copy of The Fangirl’s Guide, please click here to go to the Rafflecopter page. There are many ways to enter!