Word Choice

I’m in the final throes of editing The Nobodies, and after having the random inclination a few posts ago to review some of my more… minute changes, I figured now is as good a time as any to do exactly that.

I’ve named this post “Word Choice.” I think it particularly reflective of the changes below, because most of them are simple replacements or adjustments rather than full-on revisions. Now, I will tell you think: I’m not sure if I made these because my style has evolved, or if I actually believed the new versions to be superior, or if they’re only a repercussion of reading the narrative a few too many times.

Whatever the case, I’ve made them, and I’m going to do my best to justify why. Maybe less to explain them to you than to convince myself, really, but who cares? Here we go.

Original: The shadows were deep there, almost enough to hide him.
Revised: The shadows beneath its rusted bed were almost enough to hide him.

Using “there” really bugged me in this sentence. While I originally noted in the one prior that the character had passed “a battered truck,” there was no indication of where the referenced shadows actually were. And why would I need to modify the noun with “deep” when simply noting the shadows “were almost enough to hide him.” obviously implied they were rather dark?

Original: He could feel a blade rubbing against one of his ribs.
Revised: A blade was rubbing against one of his ribs.

I made a number of similar edits like this throughout the book to reduce the use of any passive language. Passive has its place, of course, and can certainly be used if appropriate for the situation, but sometimes it’s only a buffer between the reader and the action. Also, if a blade was rubbing against one of his ribs, you’re damned right he’s going to feel it. No need to spell that out.

Original: With a laugh to break through the tears, she glanced down at her hands and went still.
Revised: She laughed, breaking through her tears, and glanced down at her hands.

The original version of this sentence lacked any tension, especially the second half. When thinking this over, I considered what she would be doing. “She glanced down at her hands,” I wrote, but would the flow to “and went still” be as fluidic as that sentence implied? Would there be no shock? No awe? No pause? The new version follows the end of this sentence with a new paragraph that is simply, “And froze.” This creates a noted break for the reader, emphasizes the action and boosts the impact. The adjustments to the first half of the sentence followed a similar thought as the previous point—that is, creating a modestly less passive voice.

Original: They exchanged whispers Walt couldn’t make out.
Revised: They were saying something Walt couldn’t make out.

Whispers are generally difficult to make out unless you’re eavesdropping. People sitting ten feet from me in an open, quiet room could be whispering and I would have absolutely no idea unless I was looking at them. So if you figure these people are behind a wall (as they were), I can’t imagine Walt knowing in any way. As to the start of the sentence, the use of “exchanged” seems to me, now, just a nice way of replacing “said,” but why not use that? I don’t exchange with someone. I say something to them.

Original: Walt squinted as the bulb flared to show the man’s grimace.
Revised: The bulb’s flare made Walt squint.

There really was just too much going on in that original sentence. Yes, I lost the grimace, but there’s plenty of scowling going around and, in a re-read, it felt rather repetitive. But dropping the passive voice of the original and making the bulb the sentence’s subject seemed a no-brainer once that happened (and let me lose the “as the” bit, which is basically little more than filler).

Original: The girl from earlier entered next, almost on the heels of the second man.
Revised: The woman from earlier followed almost on his heels.

She’s not a girl. Why I would call her one here, I couldn’t tell you. Simple slip, I suppose, as I do use that term in other areas of the book, particularly within dialog. The rest of the sentence’s revisions were made to simplify the flow of the narrative. I had just spoken of “the second man,” so noting him again unnecessarily extended this sentence. The same could be said of “entered next,” which was easily replaced with “followed” without any loss of context.

Original: “Don’t know,” Walt said hoarsely, clearing his throat once more.
Revised: “Don’t know,” Walt managed, clearing his throat again.

The reason I changed “said hoarsely” to “managed” may not be immediately clear, but let’s take a look at what comes after both of those. That is, “clearing his throat.” If he’s clearing his throat, his throat is likely bothering him. Why do I need to note it’s hoarse at the same time? I don’t. And shifting “once more” to “again” was something of a stylistic choice, though it did save a word and shorten the sentence a tick. There’s also an inherent stuffiness to “once more” compared to “again,” isn’t there? And Walt, well, he’s anything but stuffy.

Original: “Nothing,” he said with an outgoing breath.
Revised: “Nothing,” he breathed.

One, it’s like I forgot “an outgoing breath” had a name. Then, “said with an exhale,” just seemed overly long and descriptive when “breathed” could fit just as well.

Original: He paused to look at each of them in turn.
Revised: He looked at them all in turn.

Looking at everyone in turn before continuing takes some time, so indicating he “paused” to do so felt redundant. The same could be said for “in turn” and “each of them,” which denote the same event: one by one. Replacing the latter with “them all” also gave the sentence a more direct object.

Original: “Go back to sleep.”
Revised: “Try to get some more sleep.”

This didn’t need to be made and, of all of the changes, I believe this is most representative of my current mindset versus what I had in the past. The rationale, of course, is that the original version could be taken in very different ways. Meant, within context, to have been spoken calmly, tenderly, it could also be misread as harsh, commanding. The softer “Try to get….” inferred, to me, a more caring and balanced relationship between the two characters.

That was fun. And you know what’s great? All of these were taken from the very first chapter. But while I’m sure there’re plenty more examples I could probably choose from, I think that’s enough, don’t you?

The Nobodies will return to your Kindle and Nook, and be available for the first time in print, this spring.