Monday, January 29, 2007

To Had or to Had Not

All writers have their favorite quotes. Most of them are quotes from writers we admire, those who have succeeded at their craft. We post them around our offices, on our bulletin boards and even at the edge of our computer screens. They encourage us, making us look deeper into ourselves and what we put down on paper.

My favorite is one I hate. I love to hate it, but I hate it. The first time I read it I thought, well this guy is a jerk. He obviously doesn’t read much.

It goes like this:‘Words are like leaves and where they most abound, much fruit beneath is rarely found.”*

After reading it a few times, all the while burying myself deeper into my craft, I began to get what he meant. Writers use one thing, words. It’s all we have. Words are the tools we use to create our art. What I am coming to realize is that we tend to think the more words we use, the better our creation. We can wow our readers with all of the words we know. This simply isn’t true.

Right now I am working to take the word ‘had’ out of my writing. It’s just a little word, doesn’t take up much space and adds nicely to our word count. I call it a ‘cheater’ word. It’s an empty meaningless word that all of us ought to strike from our writing, unless it is absolutely needed.

Here’s a quick example of what I mean.

He had not given her his answer.
He did not give her an answer.

She had never seen him before today.
She never saw him before today.

The word had takes the action right out of a sentence. An entire scene can be flattened by the small, meaningless little word.

Give it a try. Look over your latest story and see how many times you have deflated a sentence by using the word. Re-word your sentence, replacing had, and see what you wind up with. My guess is you will be much more pleased with the flow of your sentence, and your scene.


*Essay on Criticism-Pope

Posted by Speck for Gwanny cause Blogger and her puter don't seem to be able to play nice together.


Cheryl said...

Gee, this advice sounds familiar. Did I know you in a previous life? LOL!

You are such a wise Gwanny. If only I could write the way I should, then "had" would never enter my prose. But alas, I have to edit it a thousand times to get it to look that good.

Great post my friend. Thanks for the hint.


Sherry Heidelberger-Blackburn said...

Laughing at the Trolls comment on my puter not playing nice with the blog.
That's an understatement!