3 Word Choice Errors That Are Ruining Your Manuscript

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

Why Word Choice Matters

Don’t be silly. Of course our words matter. If you said, “Look at that dog jumping over the fence” when you meant, “Look at that old lady jumping over the fence,”-  well, it carries a whole different meaning. Nobody would understand you.

No, I mean the process of carefully selecting your words to paint in the details you want, or to help set the scene.

That’s error #1. New writers know what they mean, but they don’t put it on the page in such a way that a disinterested 3rd party knows what the writer means.

Compare this:

(A) I walked over to the breakfast nook. Mallory was reading the newspaper, with Sophie perched happily on her lap. The cereal bowls were empty, with just a few flakes floating in the residual milk. I quietly placed a box of donuts on the counter.

To this:

(B) I slipped into the house and eased the door shut behind me, peering around the corner at the breakfast nook. Mallory sat reading the newspaper with Sophie perched on her lap. Empty cereal bowls rested on the table, just a few bits of floating in the residual milk. I stepped into the room and slid the box of donuts on the counter.

You get the same basic information in both, but one paints a vastly different image than the other.

Here are some of the differences:

In (A) he walks to the breakfast nook. In (B) he slipped into the house. Walk versus slipped in. One is casual, the other implies stealth. Stealth, in one’s own home, raises curiosity. Why does he need to be stealthy?

Then we add these details, that further paint the scene:

eased the door shut versus shut the door. Again, stealth is implied.

peering around the corner as opposed to walking in

Obviously, the character is wary about walking in. He should be. He’s been out all night.

We don’t know why he’s being stealthy, but he is, and we know that. We see it.

Take a word out or add one in, he still gets to the table. It’s how he does it that matters here, and one word more or one word less won’t ruin the mental image being painted in the reader’s mind. Or will it?

I stepped into the room and slid the box of donuts on the counter.

Or

I crept into the room and slid the box of donuts on the counter.

I’m not sure we need that last one, it may be too much. But all in all, he’s afraid his wife is mad at him. He’s acting that way. (Maybe he should tiptoe.)

And we are showing it, in the character’s actions and in the writer’s word choices.

That’s error #2. New writers tend to tell us instead of showing us – and proper word choices will do a better job of storytelling anyway. But this is more than a “show, don’t tell” rule. It’s a dive deep with the right words rule.

Again, this has been happening in each chapter. It would be worth it to look back over some where you saw changes happening and note where different words were inserted to help paint the desired image. I don’t do it every paragraph but I definitely try to maximize it in dramatic scenes or action scenes, or other key scenes – and hopefully your story has lots of key scenes.


Chapter 28 “FINAL”

 

I slipped into the house and eased the door shut behind me, peering around the corner at the breakfast nook. Mallory sat reading the newspaper with Sophie perched on her lap. Empty cereal bowls rested on the table, just a few bits of floating in the residual milk. I crept into the room and slid the box of donuts on the counter.

“Daddy!” Sophie jumped up and sprinted to me, wrapping her arms around thighs.

As she lowered the newspaper, a smile crept over Mallory’s face. She let out a sigh, like she’d been holding her breath since last night.

Sophie peeled herself off me and ran back to the table. “Look, this is what we want you to make for us.” She held up a section of the paper. “Chocolate bread!”

The title under the image of marbled bread read Babka. It looked like a big, twisted pretzel.

“Chocolate bread?” I made an exaggerated frown. “Yuck. I don’t want to eat chocolate bread.”

Mallory set aside the section she had been reading and folded her arms, resting her elbows on the table. “It’s not for you to eat. It’s for us to eat.”

“I don’t want to make chocolate bread if I’m not going to eat chocolate bread.”

We want to eat chocolate bread.”

I don’t want to eat chocolate bread. So I’m not making chocolate bread.”

Mallory frowned at Sophie. “Daddy says ‘no’.”

Sophie frowned.

I was dead tired and hadn’t figured out if I was in trouble for being out all night. I hadn’t been partying, and Mallory knew that, I probably looked like I had.

“I can make chocolate cake.” I put my hands on my knees and turned to Sophie. “Would you like cupcakes?”

Sophie’s eyes lit up. “I would like cupcakes.”

“I can make chocolate cupcakes,” I told her.

Mallory grumbled. “I want chocolate bread.”

I shrugged my shoulders at our daughter in an exaggerated manner, and frowned. “Mommy says ‘no’.”

Sophie frowned.

I got a glass out of the cupboard and pulled out a jug of tea out of the fridge. Tyree and I had talked all night. Mallory was probably pissed. Maybe I should make the chocolate bread to smooth things over. I poured a tall glass as Sophie scampered over to the TV to watch cartoons.

“How did everything go last night?”

If Mallory was angry, she was masking it well. That was nice in front of our daughter.

“Good.” I rubbed my eyes. “Really good. We may have found our man.”

She laid down the paper. “Really?”

I leaned on the counter and gulped my tea. “I got lucky. This guy is smart. He knows the Church and their limitations and he seems to know the law. He was a good find.”

“Did you guys talk all night?”

“Pretty much.”

Mallory could be patient when the time called for it. She was exerting that strength now, probably wanting to leap out of her chair and ask for all the details, but holding back so as not to worry our daughter. As curious as my wife might be, though, I knew she was still afraid of hearing truthful answers to the questions that frightened her.

“I think you’ll be happy with what I learned last night,” I said. “I think you’ll feel better after you hear it.”

“Good.”

“In fact, I should probably have him come over here and talk to both of us. He can meet you and Sophie. That might be helpful to him.”

“Have him come here?” Mallory bit her lip. “Do you trust him?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I do.”

“Why?”

I drained my glass. “A couple of reasons.” I stepped to the table and sat down next to her, closing my eyes and laying my head on her shoulder. “I’ll go over all that with you, I promise. But not now.  I need some sleep.” I made a loud, cartoonish snoring noise.

“Daddy!” Sophie giggled, bouncing up and down on the couch.

Mallory smiled, shoving my head off her shoulder. She wanted more, but she would wait. Opening the newspaper with a rustle, she held it high in front of her face.

I pushed it down and kissed her. “Thanks, darling.” With a grunt, I put both hands on the table and forced myself to a standing position, then headed to the stairs to go to bed.

“When should we have him meet with us?”

“Soon.”

“Tonight?”

I stopped and turned. “I have another appointment tonight. Another late meeting.” I left it ambiguous on purpose. I didn’t know how many meetings I would need.

“Another?” Mallory covered her mouth with her hand and swallowed hard, turning her eyes to our beautiful bouncing girl.

 


Original Chapter 28, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

I walked over to the breakfast nook. Michele was reading the newspaper, with Savvy perched happily on her lap. The cereal bowls were empty, with just a few flakes floating in the residual  milk. I quietly placed a box of donuts on the counter.

“Daddy!” Savvy shouted upon seeing me.

Michele held up a section of the paper displaying a large brown and white photo.

“Look, this is what we want you to make for us,” she said, smiling. “Chocolate bread!”

Savvy looked at the photo and smiled.

The title under the marbled bread said “Babka.” It looked like big twisted pretzel.

“Chocolate bread?” I said, making a face. “Yuck. I don’t want to eat chocolate bread.”

Michelle said, “It’s not for you to eat. It’s for us to eat.”

“I don’t want to make chocolate bread if I’m not going to eat chocolate bread.”

“We want to eat chocolate bread.”

“I don’t want to eat chocolate bread. So I’m not making chocolate bread.”

Michele frowned at Savvy. “Daddy says ‘no’.”

Savvy frowned.

I was dead tired and hadn’t figured out if I was in trouble for being out all night. I hadn’t been out drinking and partying, and Michele knew that, but I probably looked almost like I had been. Still, I wanted to be a good guy and make peace if it was necessary. There was enough stress in this house at the moment.

I pondered the photo. Why would you want to go to all the trouble to make bread that’s supposed to taste like chocolate? Newspaper recipes rarely turned out any good, but they were almost always a lot of work. Why not just make something that tastes like chocolate, that you know tastes good?

“I can make chocolate cake,” I offered. I had an awesome chocolate cake recipe that we all loved. I turned to Savvy and smiled. “Would you like cupcakes?”

Savvy smiled. “I would like cupcakes.”

“I can make chocolate cupcakes” I told her.

“I want chocolate bread,” Michele interjected.

I shrugged my shoulders at our daughter in an exaggerated manner, and frowned.

“Mommy says ‘no’,” I said.

Savvy frowned.

I got a glass out of the cupboard, walked over to the fridge and pulled out a jug of tea. Tyree and I had talked all night. Michele was probably pissed. Maybe I should make the chocolate bread to smooth things over. I poured a tall glass of tea and watched as Savvy scampered over to the TV to watch a cartoon.

“How did everything go last night?” Michele finally asked. If she was angry, she was masking it well. That was nice in front of our daughter.

“Good,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “Really good. I think we’ve found our man.”

She laid down the paper. “Really?”

I nodded and sipped the tea. “I got lucky. This is a smart guy. He knows the Church and their limitations and he seems to know the law. He was a good find.”

“Did you guys talk all night?”

“Pretty much.”

Michele could be patient when the time called for it. She was exerting that strength now, wanting to leap out of her chair and ask for all the details, but holding back so as not to scare our daughter. She had her suspicions as to where all this might lead, and as curious as she was, she was afraid of hearing answers that would frighten her.

“I think you’ll be happy with what I learned last night,” I said. “I think you’ll feel better after you hear it.”

“Good,” she said.

“I should probably have him come over here and talk to both of us. He can meet you and Savvy. That would probably be helpful to him.”

Michele worried about that; Tyree was still a stranger to her. “Have him come here?” the home was her domain. That was a risk. “Do you trust him?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I do.”

“Why?”

I drained my glass. “A couple of reasons.” I walked over to the table and sat down next to her. I closed his eyes and laid my head on her shoulder. “I’ll go over all that with you, don’t worry. Right now I need some sleep.” Then I made a loud, cartoonish snoring noise.

“Daddy!” Savvy laughed.

Michele smiled, bouncing my head off her shoulder. She wanted more, but she would wait.

I kissed her. “Thanks,” I said as I pushed off the table top and rose to go upstairs to bed.

“When should we have him meet with us?” She asked.

“Soon” I said. “I have another appointment tonight…”

I left it ambiguous on purpose.


ANALYSIS

The third error new writers tend to do is finish the chapter with all the questions answered. If we end with a question, it adds tension and makes a reader want to turn the page. Books like that are called page turners. But also, in the conversation and the descriptions, don’t spoon feed everything to the reader; put it there for the reader to discover, to make conclusions about.

We see Mallory’s expression at the end. Do we need to say “the fear had returned”? Probably not.

Now:

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your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

16 thoughts on “3 Word Choice Errors That Are Ruining Your Manuscript

  1. You are correct with your choice of words as to how he entered the house. He had been gone all night and the donuts as a peace offering is brilliant. The conversation between him and Mallory set the tone of intrigue and showed how Mallory must feel but has to wait until Sophie is out of ear shot.
    Picking the correct word can make a huge difference and cut out waffle like a hot knife through butter.
    I was editing Wisp book two this morning when I came across the line “Pungent dried fish wafted through the air.” I laughed out loud and changed it to “The pungent odor of dried fish wafted through the air.”
    Thank you, Dan. These posts are helping me a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoy hearing that. I was getting ready to edit this manuscript and we were talking about doing a webinar and having me host some classes for young writers and FWA, and I said, heck, I’m about to do all the steps when I edit the MS; why not write down what it is I do? Readers of my blog will see why I did what I did, with some explanations, I’ll have my FWA presentation, and we’ll all have a hands-on reference because nobody does that!

      Meanwhile, it’ll be a ready-made manual for a how-to workbook when I’m done.

      And as always, my amazing readers get it first.

      LOVE that flying fish reference. One of my favorite writers had a line about a runner getting ready to exercise in a forest. “She put on her shoes and ran into the trees.”

      I wrote to her saying, hopefully she ran around the trees.

      Liked by 1 person

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