Category Archives: Books

NO CRUTCHES ALLOWED!

Your Secret Editing Weapon: Lose Your Crutch Words

I know the copy editor was just trying to be nice, but I burst out laughing at her carefully worded comment in my last manuscript. I had to imagine what she must have thought as she realized she needed to mention it.

What the flick?

“Please note ‘flickering’ throughout” she wrote. Then she put a smiley-face so I’d understand she wasn’t being critical, only supportive, and went on to say, “There seems to be a lot of flickering going on in your manuscript.”

Flickering I thought? Flickering? I was baffled. But when I did an edit-find for flicker, there it was. I mean, there it was. Again and again and again.

Monitors flickered. People’s eyes flickered. Birds flickered. Lights flickered. I can’t even remember all the things that flickered. Somehow I had gotten that word into my head, and apparently it seemed like a good one, and every day as I wrote my thousand words, I guess I figured I should use it. It never crossed my mind that I was repeating it. Like crazy.

Just don’t

Has your own version of “flicker” happened to you? Trust me, it has. When we’re in the midst of writing, when we’re in the zone and the words are flowing, our brains tend to default to words that are comfortable. How many times do you write “of course”? How many times do you write “right”? Right? How about “just”?

What would happen if you went through your manuscript looking for those words? How many do you think you would find? I promise you, you’ll be shocked at how many times you type “just.” You don’t even notice it. But it is just clogging your manuscript.

Oops, I said it again. And “even.” That’s another one.

Actually, crutch words make everyone the same

Whatever. Does more than one character say whatever? Does more than one character say “you’re kidding me?” Does more than one character say “I know, right?” ? Not only do we latch on to our personal crutch phrases, but we tend to assign them to every character. That’s a pitfall because it makes every character sound just the same.

I mean—the same. Not “just” the same.

Actually. Certainly. Supposedly. Allegedly. By the name of. As a result. Really. How many times do you use those?

More important: How many of them do you need?

Pick one of your words. Put it in edit-find. (You know how to do that, right?) Prepare to be amazed. And you might as well laugh, because now you have the power to fix it.

Next, see if your manuscript is—over qualified. How often do you use kind of, sort of, possibly, maybe, a little? What are you qualifying? What would happen to your manuscript if you cut those sentence softeners? Try it. Doesn’t it sound stronger to say it is something, rather than a little bit something?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this

And check your choreography. How often do people tuck their hair behind their ear? Wave someone off? Flip a hand. Raise an eyebrow. Raise both eyebrows? How often do people nod? Or pause? Or pause, nodding?

Do people shrug? Do they grin? Do they shrug and grin? Think about it. In real life, people rarely do those things. Shrugging, maybe. Grinning? Not so much. And shrugging and grinning is as goofy as it gets.

It’s damn important, though, for a stronger manuscript

When you excise your crutch words, you’ll see your manuscript take on a new quality. In my current WIP, the copy editor noted the word “though.” I mean…though? But when I did my faithful edit-find, I found I’d used it 72 times. Seventy-two times! I thought: why didn’t I say although? Why didn’t I say but? Why didn’t I rearrange the sentence so the entire structure was different? When I took out all but about 15 of those “thoughs,” the sentence rhythm changed. The balance changed. After noticing my repetitions, I had to think harder about new ways to express the same thought—and the result was a stronger manuscript.

Oh, I forgot “very.” How many verys do you have? Mark Twain, the story goes, had a perfect solution. He suggested every time you want to use the word “very,” replace it with the word “damn.” Then your editor will take it out, and your sentence will read the way it should have in the first place.

So here’s today’s tip—go on a treasure hunt for your personal repetitions. And keep a list of them to remind you!

And then—get writing.

 

The “find” option can become your best friend when editing. Please feel free to share your most common crutch words in the Comments section of this post…it may help the rest of us kick those crutches to the curb!—L.C. Bennett Stern

 

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MEET THE BUTCHER

Excerpt from my book, Bosses and Blackjacks: A Tale of the “Bloody Fifth” in Philadelphia:

 

It only took Dave five minutes to walk from the station house at Third and Delancey,  but the August heat took its toll. His collar and hatband were soaked through with sweat when he arrived at Deutsch’s shop.

“Mayor Smith told me to come and talk to you about how I can help with the election,” Dave said. He looked over his shoulder to make sure nobody saw him go in.

“Yes. Yes. Good. Come in, Lieutenant,” Ike Deutsch replied. The butcher wiped his palms and the backs of his hands on his blood-splattered apron, and they shook hands. He locked the door to the shop and flipped the “Open” sign to “Closed” after Dave entered. “Let’s go to the back where we can talk in private.” As he pulled his apron off over his head, he added, “You never know who’s peeking through the glass.”

Dave removed his cap and followed the butcher. They walked past the dead chickens hung by their ankles, beneath the fragrant sausages hanging overhead, past the glass case of roasts and chops on the left with the big roll of brown paper and large spool of twine on top. The sawdust on the floor puffed up with each step as they snaked between the carcasses hanging on heavy iron hooks, past the bloodied butcher blocks strewn with dangerous-looking implements, until at last they entered a small, dank room off to the right.

“I call this my office. Not much, I know—but it gives me some privacy.” Deutsch closed the door, threw the apron into the bin to his left, and pointing to a stool in the corner, said, “Sit, please, sit.”

Dave settled onto the stool.

Ike Deutsch plopped himself down on the chair behind a rickety wooden table serving as his desk. He whisked aside a pile of stained bills and receipts and simultaneously pulled the dirty ashtray from the side of the table to himself. He lit a fat cigar and tossed the charred matchstick into the ashtray “So, Lieutenant, I think we’re about to become partners in an exciting adventure.”

Dave tried not to choke. He wasn’t sure if it was being closeted with the cigar smoke or the thought of politics again gripping his life.

 

Hope you enjoyed this tidbit. If you’re tempted to read more, please order Bosses and Blackjacks, available from Amazon in ebook or paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Bosses-Blackjacks-Bloody-Fifth-Philadelphia/dp/1523349093

 

SUMMERTIME♫ . . . AND THE READING IS EASY!

Well, folks . . . I did it!

 

Mae’s Revenge is available just in time for your first weekend of Summer, 2017!

 

The lovely ladies (pictured above) simply could not wait another moment to find out exactly what goes on inside this historical novella.

 

And now — you don’t have to wait, either!

Available on Amazon.com: 

https://www.amazon.com/Maes-Revenge-Mari-Theater-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B071KDKT7V/

 

Thank you, dear readers, for sharing this adventure with me, and I hope you enjoy Mae’s Revenge! (Available in E-book and paperback versions.) Please don’t hesitate to use the “comment” option, above.

PUT THAT IN YOUR PIPE, AND SMOKE IT!

Excerpt from my next book —

Mae’s Revenge

VanSant pulled a pipe from his inside pocket, opened a pouch of tobacco, pinched a bit between his fingers and began tapping it into the bowl. “You don’t mind if I have a smoke, do you Mae?”

“Of course not, my father smokes a pipe every evening and I’ve grown accustomed to the aroma of a fine tobacco.”  This man doesn’t need to know I lived above a tailor’s shop in a tiny apartment with four other people. I can tell him whatever story I want, and he has no way of knowing if I’m telling the truth or not! This encouraged Mae to expand on her tale. “Why, when my family received the ambassador from Cuba, he presented my father with a sterling silver tin filled with the very finest tobacco the island had to offer.”

“My, my! That is impressive, Mae,” VanSant said and lit his pipe.

I SUPPOSE YOU’RE WONDERING WHY I CALLED YOU ALL HERE TODAY…

Penguin #1: 

Hey, everybody — did you hear she’s writing a new book?

Penguin #2: 

No, really? That’s so exciting!

Penguin #3: 

Who? Who’s writing a new book?

Penguin #1 (Reginald):

The lady who writes this blog, dummy!

Penguin #2 (Matilda): 

What’s it about? Does it have a penguin hero?

Penguin #3 (Archibald):

Oh boy! A penguin hero! I can’t wait to read it!

Reginald:

Don’t be silly, Archibald! This blogger writes about human beings, because she is one, and she was taught to write about what she knows.  She doesn’t know anything about us.

Archibald:

Oh drat. No penguin hero. Then why did you call us here today?

Matilda:

Yes, Reginald, I agree with Archibald — if it’s not about us . . . what is this new book about?

Reginald:

It’s about a woman named, Annie Mae Steinberg from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Her friends called her Mae.) The story begins in the late 1800s, when she travels west to South Dakota to become an actress on the stage of the Gem Theater. The Gem is located in a mining town called Deadwood.

Archibald:

Deadwood? O-o-o-h . . . that sounds scary!

Matilda:

Yes, it does sound frightening. Was she all alone out there?

Reginald:

Completely.  She left all her friends and family back in Philadelphia to have her own adventure. You see, Mae was a dreamer . . . a bit like you, Archibald.  But, fate stepped in and completely altered her grand plans. 

Archibald:

Oh no. How? Why? What did fate do to her? I’m beginning to like this Mae human.

Matilda:

Me too! Tell us more, please.

Reginald:

I can’t . . . the book’s not finished . . . the blogger human is still writing it. We’ll just have to wait until it’s published.

Archibald:

Ya know what, Reginald? You suck! You called us all over here to share your big news, and now you tell us — you can’t tell us! What a jerk!

Matilda:

Now, now. Don’t be so hard on Reggie — he hasn’t been the same since he lost that part in “Penguins of Madagascar.”

Reginald’s head droops as he walks away:

Thanks a lot, Matilda. Just for that, I won’t tell you what the book is called, and you’ll never be able to find it to read. So there!

Archibald:

That’s not fair! I want to read about Mae. Sorry for calling you a jerk, Reginald.

Matilda:

I’m sorry too. You would have been the best actor in that movie — honest! Please tell us, Reggie.

Reginald turned, his ego restored, and with his head held high, declared:

Mae’s Revenge!

 

Please return here at various intervals for updates on this human blogger’s progress with Mae’s Revenge. The target release date is early fall, 2017.