Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Ax Those Crutch Words: HAD

Good morning, lovely readers! Welcome to my series on crutch words and passive voice, as I know this is something we all struggle with.

If you've ever read your writing and thought it sounded sub-par or unprofessional, but just didn't know how to fix it, chances are you're leaning on crutch words or using passive voice. I'll show you how to fix that.

The truth is that writers don't have enough of a science behind fixing this sort of thing. Sure, most of the really great writers out there stay away from crutch words and passive voice, but most of that is instinctual for them, after a lot of hours of writing and learning and honing.

Even most other authors you'll find may be able to tell you that something is lacking in your writing, but even they may not know exactly what it is or how to fix it. Or even if they can pinpoint it, it's hard for them (for any of us) to give actual, definable steps toward fixing our weak writing.

Saying, "Do it better," really doesn't help much. Especially newbie writers who really want to write better, but simply don't know how.

Here's where I'll start giving tips to help you out with this. Because there are many MANY offenders when it comes to crutch words, and they nearly always lead to passive voice. So if you cut out your crutch words, 99% of the passive voice in your writing automatically goes away. Isn't that amazing? And you get the added benefit of tighter, more grounded writing. The kind readers love to read and publishers love to publish.

Today's offender: HAD

1. Get rid of multiple past tense instances. "Had" shows up the most when you're writing in past tense. "She had gone downstairs to find her shoes." The thing is, you only need one instance of "had" to show you're talking about something from the past. After the first instance, you can use regular past tense. Observe the difference:

"She had gone downstairs to look for her shoes. She had gone into the bathroom. They weren't there. She had then gone into her room, and had searched every nook and cranny. Not finding them, she had gone back upstairs to search the living room."

See how many "hads" there are? It becomes a headache. Now let's take out those crutch words, leaving in only the first instance to establish past tense.

"She had gone downstairs to look for her shoes. She searched in the bathroom. They weren't there. She went into her room, searching every nook and cranny. Not finding them, she went back upstairs to search the living room."

See the difference?

2. Cut Filler. If it makes sense without the "had," get rid of it. If the sentence only makes sense with the had, then obviously keep it. I find that 50% of my hads are filler and can be cut without affecting the sentence in the least.

Example 1: “Who’s Gabe?” Jane had demanded.
The Fix: “Who’s Gabe?” Jane demanded.

Example 2: The phone screen had shown the number clearly.
The Fix: The phone screen showed the number clearly.

Example 3: She had not gotten any groceries.
The Fix: She didn't get any groceries.

Example 4: He had come to see the game.
The Fix: He came to see the game.

Example 5: They had to be mistaken.
The Fix: They must be mistaken.

Example 6: She'd had to learn the spell.

The Fix: She'd learned the spell. 

These examples tell you how to fix only this one crutch word. There are dozens more hiding in your writing and make it ooze with amateurishness and inexperience. Those words have to go if you want your writing to make it to the big leagues and brush shoulders with the heavy-hitters. 

Pick up my book, Editing for Crutch Words on Amazon for more tips and tricks to take your writing from okay to amazing! 

Check out my other books at: www.authorlkhill.com.

How about you? Is HAD a culprit in your writing?

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