Too much of a good thing

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough”, said Mark Twain.

Whether in eating, drinking or anything else, the general consensus seems to be that, too much of anything is not good. Except for Mark Twain’s good whiskey or Scott Fitzgerald’s Champagne (same quote, different drink). Though alcohol can indeed catalyse the creative juices, too much will also stifle them. But this blog is not about alcohol, but about words.

Aiming for a Christmas launch of DEATH IS A RIDDLE, I believed I was done, having incorporated all my editors comments and suggestions. I just needed to prepare my ISBN number, format correctly and upload. And then he sent me an overused words list

Initially disappointed at missing my own-set deadline and having to go through everything again, I decided to do a random review of some of the words thinking it couldn’t be that bad. It was.

Despite all my checks and balances, reviews and rewrites, here were words that were glaringly overused. One’s you miss if you do not focus on the word its self. Some were repetitive, others redundant or ill-fitting, but this was so insightful that I spent most of my Christmas holidays painstakingly going through all the words one by one.

The list contained 92 words which the editor had perceived to be appearing too often throughout the story. Using the word count function in Pages, I could quickly tally and find each repetition. For many of the words, the totals were actually quite low.

The problem of the lower counts were that they were sometimes condensed onto a single page, or in one chapter. This demonstrated to me that a frame of mind not only impacts the tone of the writing, but also the word selection, despite having rewritten multiple times. Other low counts included words that were not quite fitting and that alternatives would be better.

The biggest problem formed the high counts which I could categorise into three main groups:

  1. Using (too) many similes with the same expressions: like, such as.
  2. Starting sentences with But, And, Look, Well, So, etc. – especially in dialogue this appeared to be a tendency
  3. The excessive use of stopgap words such as now, besides, just, seem, because, started and maybe

Amit Kalantri quoted in his Wealth of Words; “Anything which you have in profusion is poison”. 

Poison may be overstated, but I hope I’ve taken some of the poison out of my writing and have improved upon the quality and flow of the story. In fact, I’m convinced I have. Happy reading!

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