Remember two posts ago when I said I was going to teach you about content words and function words? Well here we are! I’m finally keeping that promise, because here comes…
#4: Eliminating function words. Function words are a part of linguistics, just like content words. Function words are the ones that your brain deems less important, because they serve a function in the sentence, but don’t really tell you anything about the content. Articles and prepositions are function words. The content words are the ones that tell you what the sentence actually means, like nouns, verbs, and adjectives. We might still understand a sentence if we didn’t have function words, but we would be at a complete loss without content words. Here is a quick test, one that will prove a point of course. Go back and count all the F’s in this paragraph, starting from the #4 and ending right here.
How many did you get? Five? Six? Nine?
Here’s how many there are: Ten!
Were you right? Go back and count again, this time paying specific attention to the if’s and of’s. Most people would have missed at least one or two F’s here, because your brain doesn’t process function words the same as content words. They’re less important. So, how does this affect our writing? Well, it means we’re more likely to forget a lot two-letter words, because our brain skips right past them. I purposefully missed an “of” in that previous sentence. You probably noticed when I did it, but maybe not when you do it. That’s normal. It makes it even harder when you try to proofread your own work, because many times your brain will plug in missing function words, so you don’t even know they’re missing. The best way to correct for this is to have someone else read your work. Also practice typing every word you think to make sure you’re not missing anything.
#3: Description – Not enough or way too much? One hard thing to remember as an author is that, while you may have a vivid picture of everything you’re writing about, your readers don’t. That means you might not give as much description as your readers want. If your written world is beautiful and well thought out, let your readers know that. Give them a good, juicy description of what’s going on. What do your characters look like? What are they doing while they’re talking? What do their surroundings look like? These are all important things to include, and sometimes you find yourself without any of that. On the flip side, some authors have the opposite problem. They write way too much description. A good rule of thumb is, if you’re interrupting the flow of your story in order to insert blocks of description, you’re probably putting in too much. We don’t need to know what color the flowers on the trees are if your character is defusing a bomb. Likewise, when your character meets another, it’s natural for them to give a brief description of things that any normal person would notice. Example:
(From first person)
I saw a girl with short brown hair, who looked a little younger than me. She was wearing a nice dress, which contrasted sharply with her worn out shoes.
That is a decent amount of description. Your narrator has introduced someone new, your readers are able to follow along, and the story can continue. Here’s what’s not okay:
(Also from first person)
I saw a girl who had short, chocolate-brown hair, brown eyes, and a long nose. She had freckles, and her bottom teeth were slightly crooked. She was standing awkwardly, with one arm clutching the opposite elbow, and she looked to be maybe two years younger than me, and a bit shorter too. Her dress was pink with flowers all over it, and it looked fairly new, while her shoes were black sandals with two straps and they looked like hand-me-downs.
While this description is rather informative, it might leave your readers bored and wondering why they should care. Don’t bore them with the details. Give them enough so they’re not left in the dark, but not so much that it seems you’ve slammed on the brakes, bringing the entire story to a halt, just so you can point out every last detail about a person. There’s a delicate balance, but it comes easier with time.
Until next time! The last two in our list of ten mistakes! Don’t miss it!
Word of the Day: Conflagration (n) – a destructive fire, usually an extensive one.