Friday, July 09, 2010

Hesitation Words

By Barbara D'Amato

When Libby Hellmann so wisely formed The Outfit, the plan was just to showcase things Chicago does especially well—crime [take this as you will] and writing. We planned occasionally to include writing tips. This tip is more useful for new and unpublished writers than old hands, but I see the problem in published books, too. Including my own. It is the overuse of hesitation words, words we use because we are unsure, self-critical, and cautious.

Some hesitation words: slightly, some, somewhat, a little, halfway, partly, just, nearly, mostly, almost, quite, rather, kind of, sort of, close to. And many more. We use them when we’re cutting back on what we’re saying. And we deprive ourselves of a clear, straightforward statement.

Certainly there are many times these words are useful. If a man is halfway down the mountain when he hears the avalanche coming, that’s important information. And these words are especially useful in dialogue to characterize a person as meek or self-critical. They work for a first-person narrator, too, if they are used intentionally.

I notice the journalists among us have less of this problem than other writers. Probably their training teaches them not to waste words.

If you have a specific hesitation word habit, after going back and correcting it over and over, sometimes your brain will say, “Dummy, save time. Just leave it out.” But not always. Sometimes you just have to search.

Some years ago I found I was inserting the word “just” in places it wasn’t necessary.

You may have noticed I’ve used “just” several places in this blog. Three of them were completely unnecessary.

17 comments:

Michael Dymmoch said...

Wise advice as usual, Barb.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thanks, Michael.

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