Next stop Vividville: Empty words depart here

Suddenly, I was very convicted.

While reading “Words that should never be written in a memoir or anywhere else” from Marilyn Mendoza’s blog From Agoraphobia to Zen, I wondered how often I had used suddenly in my memoir.

I’ve attempted to strike very from my vocabulary, having learned it was an empty modifier from my days as a newspaper reporter, but Mendoza added a number of other empty words to her list, including suddenly.

Since I didn’t want to be haunted by Stephen King, I searched my manuscript first for suddenly and found six instances:

  1. Then suddenly, she waved the word “rape” to the school cop.
  2. Suddenly, in this second interview with the detective, she had no problem discussing the sexual details of the night.
  3. “If she laughs, she thinks I’m funny. If she thinks I’m funny, she thinks I’m good. If I’m good, she will want to be with me. If she wants to be with me, she’ll want to kiss me” and suddenly he was down a one-way alley with a blind intersection.
  4. Then her brother died suddenly.
  5. The music suddenly surged, and the bass drummers formed a line behind the pounding tenors who marched behind the snare drummers, who leaned back to project the sound of their cadence.
  6. Suddenly, I had the same problem I had always had through 16 years of marriage: A depressed mate who wasn’t committed to me and couldn’t take action.

Six empty words in a manuscript of 81,271 isn’t bad, but I can do better. I deleted suddenly from the first, second and fourth instances. No. 3 turned into “and before he could backtrack to check his logic, he was down a one-way alley with a blind intersection.” In No. 5, “suddenly” became “swiftly.” No. 6 was transformed into this: “As I coped with his sad clown demeanor, I realized I had the same problem I had always had through 16 years of marriage … .”

In an effort to be thorough, I searched for very, thinking surely I had performed better on that count. I found, oh, about 20 instances — so many I stopped counting. Oh, how very irritating. I deleted 80% of them while retaining the same meaning.

Net change: Two fewer words. Isn’t it fascinating that eliminating empty words makes a story fuller.

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