Deadwood. Got a lot of that around my house, and it’s scary. We’re preparing for a long-distance move in the near future, so we’ve been cleaning out closets, sorting through junk in the attic, throwing stuff out, and hauling load after load to Goodwill.
I just hope they have more use for it than we did. A lot of this stuff I haven’t even looked at, much less used, in the five years since we moved into this house. Some of it hadn’t seen the light of day in the 13 years we lived in the house before this one! All these years . . . collecting dust, taking up space, and making me tired just thinking about it!
Deadwood is just as useless in a manuscript. So today we’re going to take a look at several areas where deadwood can pile up and sap the energy from your prose.
Deadwood #1: Qualifiers. Do a word search in your manuscript for every occurrence of the following modifiers and see how many of them you can eliminate by finding the right single word instead.
- a little
Deadwood #4: Redundancy. Examples:
- “She nodded her head.” What else would she nod? Her feet? Her elbow?
- “He shrugged his shoulders.” Same question. Is there any other possible body part that can be shrugged?
- “She blinked her eyes.” Ditto.
- "He guffawed loudly." A guffaw is loud! Use the right verb or noun and delete unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.
Deadwood #6: Chatty dialogue. Are your story conversations peppered with remarks that do nothing to increase conflict or move the story forward? Unless throwaway lines like “Hi, how are you?”, “Fine, thanks,” and “Lovely weather, isn’t it?” carry an obvious subtext of conflict or contradiction, they become useless fillers. More on writing effective dialogue here.
Deadwood #7: Cliched character actions. Time for another word search. How many times are your characters guilty of the following? These aren’t necessarily bad, but overused, they start sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. As often as possible, look for a fresher, more interesting way of describing both inner and outer reactions.
- He squeezed her hand.
- She sighed.
- His fists clenched.
- She took a deep breath.
- His stomach knotted.
- Her brow furrowed.
- He deepened the kiss.
- Her heart stammered.
What other kinds of deadwood do you have to watch out for in your manuscripts? Get out the pruning saws and get busy!