Sunday, 5 February 2012

There are words we shouldn't use.

There are words that we should just not use.

In the seventy-five thousand words of Chapters One through Twenty-Three of the first draft of my novel, there are 651 iterations of the word ‘that’, and 135 instances of ‘just’.

There are words we should not use.

The second draft of my recent short story focused on removal of these terrible words.  They kill the flow and remove the immediacy.

There are only three ‘just’s in the finished product, two in dialogue, and one I agonised over before leaving.  There are too many ‘that’s in the story – eight in total.

Deadlines are the enemy.  I was busy correcting some logic flaws and missed some word and line editing.  Let’s hope it’s still OK, but there is a lesson here.  Allow enough time for the required editing.  Here are my rules, developed over a few years of writing, articulated for the first time.

Draft 1: Get the story down.  So the story is shit.  Burn it and whip a sharp knife across your throat, or finish the bloody thing and see what’s needed to fix it.

Draft 2: Correct the logic flaws.  Oh, you forgot to mention the bad guy is a sniper until he needs to make a thousand yard shot.  Oh, you need to have a cold, wet and windy night, but it’s the middle of summer.  Oh, the back story requires your main character to have experienced something before they were born.  These become obvious as you write the story, and are fixed with the addition of a paragraph, or the changing of a number.

Draft 3: Correct the word errors, such as ‘just’ and ‘that’, or the repetition of the same word in adjacent paragraphs.  Don’t worry about understanding misplaced modifiers, or the difference between future perfect verbs and past progressive verbs.  I’m no grammar expert, but if a sentence reads funny, there’s something wrong.  Stop and change it, even if you can’t spot the grammatical issue.  Trust your reading.

Draft 4: Beautify the wording.  To all my lecturers over the last six years, thank you!  In my recent short story, I looked, ever so briefly, at rhythm and poetic elements.  A critical paragraph full of colours, originally described as yellow, green and black, lifted from flat to interesting, as green became ‘spinach-coloured’, yellow became ‘jaundiced’, and black became ‘inky’.

I should have finished draft four several weeks before the deadline, and let the story rest for some time.  Next time, hey.

The Australian Horror Writers Association short story competition is open until May 31.  I’d best get cracking.


  1. Hi Rob,

    Looking forward to the launch!

    Check out this podcast A literary lunch with Jeffry Archer on how an amazing story and a little luck can change a lifetime!