Friday, August 10, 2018

Stop using the word "just" when writing fiction - FICTION WRITING THOUGHTS

I'm half-way through the "final" (in big quotes) round of edits on the big fiction writing project I've been working on for more than 3 1/2 years and I've been amazed at one recurrent thing I've had to fix in nearly every paragraph. The word "just."

Boy have I overused it, killed it, maimed it, demeaned it, and completely abused it. Let me make up an example of how I've been using it it so we're talking about it the same way. The work is basically being presented in script format, not intended to read like pure prose, so there is explanatory exposition for illustrators/animators, so the word "just" is coming up in those sections way too much. For example, I might say:

"So and so walks up to the other person. The other person just slowly opens her eyes, barely making explicit notice of so and so."

Catch it? There was that sneaky word "just." And it's in about every other line of exposition throughout 1200 pages of text! Yikes!

First things first, why was I using it at all? In order to decide how to edit it (and edit it out for the most part) I needed to really understand why it was such a default word for me. The answer proved to be simple. It was about the visual tone I had in my head. How the scene looked. How it played out. The pacing, the subtlety of movement and time and effort and lighting. It wasn't that something happened and bang, another thing happened, and then bang, another thing happened. There was a languid pace with beautiful warm sunset lighting. It was about the slow movements our bodies make. Things were "just" as in "just barely" or "ever so slightly" or "slowly" happening and I wanted to ensure that that mood and character movement was captured in the audience's mind as they read.

The dilemma was this: I am presenting a story for readers in script format when the readers were never really intended to read a script, but instead the intention was for them to read a finished comic or watch an animated show, but knowing those would never come to fruition, I still want to make the project available. My exposition, "staging," and directions to animators/illustrators had to serve a dual purpose of guiding those professionals (as imaginary as they are since I realize nothing will come of this) as well as holding enough value as meaningful prose to someone reading it in script format purely for pleasure. I found that the word "just" had become a quick way of providing information to all parties about the feel. Oh the feels!

Now that I understood why it was coming out naturally and effortlessly (like a word on Miralax), it was time to really rethink and get rid of the word "just" in my writing. It was being used way too often. I ultimately kept probably 1 in every 20 occurrences because occasionally it's a beautiful word to do the job. It couldn't be asked to do it alone though.

Here's what ended up happening. Probably (warning: statistics totally made up) about 75% of the time I realized I could simply cut it out and change nothing else in the sentence and it was unnecessary because the dialogue and other things around it implied enough because we're all human and we have imaginations and so we get a lot without needing to have it be explicit. The other 20% (because I kept about 5% of the "just"s) I ended up adding and rewording the exposition sections to add more sensory and emotional cues so that the pacing, lighting, feel, mood, emotion, movement were still explicit but without using the cheat word "just" to do the job.

I'm so glad I did this, but now I'll have to think about (or not) whether when I'm doing initial writing/drafting if I let the word come out on its own and rewrite later, or if I spend time during the initial writing consciously not using that crutch word from the start.

How about you? Any crutch words you use in your writing that bug the crap out of you when you read it later?



  1. Oh god, I feel called out in the post. I've become aware of my over-use of the word "just" and have been making the effort to edit it out of my posts. Earlier I wrote "just" 5 times in one paragraph. ;_;


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