Michille: Search and Destroy


My current work in progress is not a complete story, but still needs to be polished so it can be graded and submitted to Hoover Library. In my first editing pass, I read the whole thing and make notes on a separate tablet (the paper kind). This is a general, overall review of the story. Since I’m a pantser, the story develops as I write it. Characters morph, situations crop up, and plot devices ensue so I make notes on what needs to be beefed up or changed, if I noted opportunities for motif or metaphor, and holes that need filled.

My second pass of edits included critiques. Because I am in a hurry with this, I posted it for the Ladies before I would normally seek critiques so they read a very raw story. They gave me a lot of good feedback which has been incorporated along with some of the things I’d noted in my first pass. Some of it hasn’t been used yet because it’s stuff that needs to be added/addressed after the project is finished.

Onward to the third pass. This is my Search and Destroy pass and it is out of order, too, due to the time sensitivity of this project. I need to fix the climax, which is a bump instead of an apex, and there are some other scenes that could use some serious re-working but since I don’t have ideas on how to fix those, I’m moving on to Search and Destroy. I use the ‘find’ tool and plug in words that weaken my writing. When writing the first draft, I pay zero attention to things like ‘to be’ verbs, the use of the word just, and start/begin phrases. I use Search and Destroy to get rid of those.

I have a list of over 400 words divided into nine categories. The first two are the most important for me to destroy – My Overused Words and Passive Voice words. Then there are Absolutes, Adverbs, Continuous Action Words, Telling Words, Time Transitions, Vague Words, and Other. Callie James has a good list that can be found here. Some are easy to fix (start/begin, very). Others take some keyboard head banging. Here are some examples of what I found when I searched on certain words in my 40,000 word WIP:

  • One of my grossly overused words – Just – 80 matches.
  • Start (started, starting) – 46 matches – some of these will stay because it isn’t used as a character is starting to do something.
  • Another of my overused words – Very – 61 matches. The matches include every, everyone, everything, etc, which need attention also as they are absolutes but vague.
  • Since – 36 matches.
  • Realize(d) – 11 matches.
  • A passive cue: been – 92 matches (yikes).
  • Another passive cue: was – wait for it – 324 matches (double yikes).

Mark Twain is credited for saying, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” What are your Search and Destroy words and techniques?

8 thoughts on “Michille: Search and Destroy

  1. (-: This is very interesting, because I really haven’t gotten to the search and destroy point on anything yet.

    What I tend to do is really listen in my head — I should probably read my passages out loud — and listen for “clunks” in the prose. I’ve used it on some of my finished short stories, anyway, and I find it useful.

    I always have to double-check when I use the word “but” — I often leave out logical steps and so the “but” is just hanging out there, looking like . . . well, the butt of a bad joke.

    I’ll be looking into your link. I think I could use this on my short stories . . . .

    • Callie’s post is good and just (lol) googling will bring up a lot of other sites, too. Make sure to add another word that relates it fiction or editing because otherwise, you get a bunch of links to malware.

  2. Very (ha!) useful post Michille, thank you. Over the weekend I’ll go back and update my own list with yours and Callie James’. I try to deal with ‘just’ and ‘very’ as I go along – type them in, get to the end of my paragraph, scene, or whatever, and then delete them before I move on. It’s amazing how many survive. I over-use ‘huge’ and facial cues around eyes, eyebrows and smiles, though that’s a tricky one as we do depend on those all the time in real life.

    One thing I haven’t figured out is my author signature word choices. Not ones that are over-used, but ones that are used by an author in a recurring and distinctive way. One historical author used to describe light as ‘lemony,’ maybe once a book. I noticed the first time because it was so apt; after that, it became a ‘tell’ for that author. I’ve just read about ten Ilona Andrews books back-to-back, and she uses ‘startle’ as a reaction (‘he startled’). Jenny C’s heroine will probably say ‘Just hell,’ or ‘Oh, just hell.’ For whoever writes the headlines on the BBC website, it’s ‘probe.’ Maybe mine would be some kind of British-ism – toward/towards, forward/forwards, while/whilst. Hmm…

    • I haven’t given a thought to my signature words, either. Jayne Ann Krentz uses the phrase “the —- he’s/she’s ever known” when signaling The Recognition (a Pam Regis Essential Element of romance) of one character to another – the moment when a character realizes he/she has found The One. The blank is filled in with words describing why he/she is The One, like the most something or the best whatever.

  3. Great post, Michille. My manuscript is currently in the hands of my longtime writing group and I’ve been ignoring the urge to tweak until they get back to me. It really, really needs time to rest before I pick it up again, so I have a better chance of seeing what’s actually on the page. And once you get this project turned in, you’ll have that luxury, too!

    • I am taking a much needed break on mine, too, while Pam looks at the current draft. I have two other papers due in my class (last one) so I have been working on those instead. No imagination needed in those.

  4. This is some very good information Michille. I’m afraid my editing passes are not nearly so organized. Although I do check to make sure I’m not re-using words in the same paragraph (or sentence) and to reduce dialogue tags, I’ve never identified those words that I tend to over use or specifically looked for the type of words Callie James mentions in her posts. Something for me to add to the “to-do” list.

    • I know some of my overused words, but I’m sure there are some that I’m not aware of. I also know that when I am writing, I use passive voice A LOT. Using the “find” tool makes it easy to go passive sentence by passive sentence and edit that specifically.

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