Cheat Words? Telling instead of showing?
What exactly are cheat words? How do authors locate them? And is it worth the time and energy to even bother?
You might be surprised how often certain words crop up in your manuscript. This is not to say that using them is a problem, it is more about the frequency, and whether the sentences could be improved by removing them, and rewording how it is written, or remove the entire sentence altogether if it does not benefit the paragraph.
Most authors have heard the phrase ‘show instead of ‘tell’. All well in good; however, you are writing a book, not directing a movie. How exactly do you show instead of tell?
Using descriptive words that vividly display a scene is one way. The other, don’t just tell the reader how a character ‘felt’, or tell them something that the character ‘realized’. Use words that portray how a character is feeling, instead of just stating they ‘felt’ a certain way.
For example, instead of “she felt apprehensive, the time had come to take the plunge”. To show the reader, you can word it similar to “Anxiety consumed her, the time had come to take the plunge.”
Rewording this sentence invokes emotion within the reader. The reader may be able to emphasize with the feelings of the character, knowing the all-consuming emotion that anxiety can bring.
What are these cheat words that we speak of?
Writers Digest goes a little more in-depth into the importance of three specific cheat words – Suddenly, Realise and Felt (https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/deleting-your-cheating-words-time-to-up-your-game)
This is not a definitive list, merely three words that can clog up a manuscript and prevent a closer connection with the character. You want your reader to follow the evidence, drawing some of their own conclusions, and then being surprised by the outcome. The story should be an enlightening and exciting journey working alongside the protagonist (or antagonist) by using descriptive words and powerful verbs to create tension, spark emotion, and immerse the reader into the world you have created.
Along the way, I have come across a few other words that slow the pace, or enable lazy writing preventing a more descriptive scene.
The other words I have noticed that I use a bit too often are ‘but’, ‘as’ and ‘feelings’. Additionally, if you have a character that is precise in the way they speak, or you write historical fiction, or have historical elements to your novel, then contractions are other words that need to be looked at more closely.
One of my characters is very formal and precise in speech; therefore, he should not use contractions like ‘didn’t’, ‘couldn’t’, ‘shouldn’t, ‘it’s’ etc. My novels are partly historically-based, and when you think about it, it is highly unlikely they spoke with contractions. To make the speech more realistic in a historical setting, it makes sense that the historical characters do not use contractions.
How many times have you found these words or other repetitive words in your manuscript?
Using the Navigation Panel enables you to type out a word, and it searches the entire manuscript, highlighting where these words are, so you can easily locate and reword that sentence.Tweet
You may not need to remove it every single time. This is more about helping you take a harder look at what is necessary and what is not, and how that sentence could be developed.
This might seem like extra work: however, this can help your manuscript stand out amidst the rest. And the hard work that you put in the short-term will pay off in the long-term. There is nothing quite as disappointing as going over a past published work and discovering that there is so much you would change. I’ve been there!
Now, I practice what I preach. So, here goes. I am baring it all, and cringing as I write this.
‘But’ was used 400 times in my 110,000 word manuscript (it also picked up words with ‘but’ in them…) ‘Felt’ was used 121 times. ‘Feeling’ 109 times. ‘Suddenly’ 58 times. ‘Realis’ 29 times (yes, this was spelt this way on purpose), and ‘instantly’ 20 times.
‘As’ was a little harder to determine, the navigation panel does pick up all the words with ‘as’ in. However, it still was useful to guide me to the sentences that benefited from removing ‘as’, creating a better flow between scenes.
I have to admit, ‘felt’ and ‘but’ cropped up more than I thought they would. Keeping in mind what the word ‘but’ actually means results in most times just removing it completely.
Culling some of these words throughout the manuscript can improve the overall flow, speed up pace, progress sentence structure, establish a closer connection between reader and character, as well as improve your overall creativity by stopping and thinking exactly how your character is actually feeling or what they are going through; thereby, increasing your connection with the characters as well.
What about you? How many times did these words crop up in your manuscript? Did you find removing them improved the way the sentence sounded, and the overall scene depicted?
It would be great to see in the comments your results, and other words that you found were unnecessary.
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