The Balloon Experiment

The other day I stumbled across an article called “1000 Verbs to Write By.” Basically it lists common verbs and gives a list of stronger verbs, that is, verbs that show rather than tell the action. The “bad boy” verbs include: walk, jump, touch, take, pull, push, had, put,  hit, was, reacted, sat, look, stood, smell, thought, said, heard, lay, lie, felt, entered, left, and turn. It doesn’t mean you can’t use those verbs now and then, with “now and then” being the operative cliché phrase. Too many of them, and you’ve got a blah manuscript.

My beta readers noted occasional repetition in my WIP, which means there’s probably a lot more to fix. So I tried my balloon experiment. Why do I call it “balloon?” Because as I edit manuscripts, I make notes inside a balloon, like the balloons coming from a character’s mouth in a comic. Using Word’s “find” feature, I typed in the “bad” words to see how many my manuscript contained. Well, my tale was riddled with them. I’m halfway done streamlining my verbs, and I’ve eliminated over 1000 words from the manuscript. I’m aiming for tight writing, where I get your point across in one sentence instead of two paragraphs.

One thing I disagree with, and have no intention of changing. There is nothing wrong with writing “he or she said.” Better “said” than cluttering up a manuscript with saidisms like interjected, exclaimed, gushed, etc. Using “said,” though, may indicate a necessity for dialogue tags that attribute an action to what your character is saying, as shown in the following example.

Fair: “If anything crawls from that grave, I’ll destroy it,” Johnny promised Carol.

Better: Johnny pulled Carol into his arms. “If anything crawls from that grave, I’ll make it take a long dirt nap.”

When I typed “have” into Word’s Find feature, I discovered that half of my “haves” weren’t necessary. The sentences read better without them. Ditching “tell” words like put, walk, etc. enabled me to tighten my sentences and make them look better, as in the next example.

Fair: Tyrone put one hand around Alexis’ shoulder.

Better: Tyrone grasped Alexis by the shoulder.

Later on, an editor or I may decide the latter sentence doesn’t work, but at least I’ve eliminated a repetitive verb.

Do you struggle with repetition in your stories? How do you get around it?

My balloon experiment meant making all my repetitions float away.

None of my balloons look alike, so why should my words?

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