Seven More Deadly Words and Contest Winners!

Well I’m just about ready to close the door on pushing The Corridors of the Dead for awhile, at least on this site. Expect lots of publicity still to come, but I definitely need a break for a bit. And what better way to take a break than to finally announce the winners of last week’s giveaway? Let’s see who won, from back to front!


  1. Third Place – signed copy of The Corridors of the Dead – Marie Loughin, nrlymrtl, and GStarkeyBooks!
  2. Second Place – $20 Amazon Gift Card – J.C. Martin and RedMojoMama!
  3. First Place – $50 Amazon Gift Card – Shannon Mayer!
Thanks everybody for all the help and love! I will be in touch with the winners shortly.
Now, then. A few weeks back I talked about how, in the course of editing The Corridors of the Dead, I had come across enough words to fill a second list of seven deadly words and phrases (the first part of which can be found here). The concept, of course, was to offer a list of words that can be found in a simple find-and-replace mission in Word.
The first seven words were:
  1. Turn/turned/turning
  2. These/This
  3. Realized
  4. What Else
  5. There was
  6. Like
  7. “ly”
Read the previous entry for more information on why these need to be purged. For now, let’s take a look at the next seven felons on our list.

  • Was – This one is a dead giveaway for a passive sentence. Don’t get me wrong; there are legitimate uses for “was”, but we’re looking to target the more egregious uses. Here is an example from the unedited version of Corridors: “She was after something, I just couldn’t figure out her angle.” See the passive sentence? We’re one step removed from the action, and the sentence is just a bit flat. Here’s how it looks in the final draft: “I didn’t buy it for a second. She had some sort of angle, but I couldn’t figure it out. ” Maybe it’s just a matter of personal preference, but I like the second cut a whole lot better; this also shows you a great alternative: looking deeper into the action and the POV character’s feelings about it. But what about that pesky correct usage of “was”? That’s simple: use it to denote past progressive tense. This is when something is interrupted by another action, for example: “I was telling her about the dog when she went on the rug”.

  • Then (or And Then)– This is a crutch for me when I want to show interrupted action (sound familiar?). Say we’re in the middle of some sort of action, and something major happens to change the scenery or the character’s perception of the situation. For example, from the unedited first version: “Very clever, I thought, and then I saw her shoulder tighten, just a little bit. I put a hand on Kristy’s knee and looked into her eyes, trying to warn her without talking.” The edited version: “Very clever. I saw her shoulder tighten a little bit. I put a hand on Kristy’s knee and gazed into her eyes. Her wide eyes told me she got it – shit was about to get real.” This is also an example of expanding on somewhat bland action by showing more than telling, in the second half of the quoted section.

  • Really– This is almost always redundant; not much more to say about it. Here’s an example from the first draft: “‘You’re coming with me,’ she said. Here was where I really ran into a problem. First thing they tell you is your odds of getting killed by a kidnapper go up dramatically when you let them take you somewhere else. Problem is, I could see this little bitch was going to kill me either way.” And edited: “‘You’re coming with me,’ she said. I ran into a problem here. First thing they tell you is that your odds of getting killed by a kidnapper rise when you let them take you somewhere else. Problem is, I could see this little bitch was going to kill me either way.”

  • Only– This is an odd one for me. I don’t know where I picked up this particular bad habit, but it crept into my writing in this book for the first (and hopefully last) time. I think it’s just an oddity of Matty’s speech, but it became quite annoying. I’m not sure I can even explain how I used this. Instead, here’s an example: “Somehow I got hold of myself and realized this, and that’s when I stopped, looking around, trying to piece together how I’d gotten there, only my brain was slippery on the subject and refusing to be pinned down.” It’s something of a qualifier, I guess, and in limited doses it’s not that bad, but it showed up over and over. Here’s how I fixed it: “I got hold of myself and stopped walking, gazing around, trying to piece together how I’d gotten there. My brain was slippery on the subject, refusing to be pinned down.”

  • At least, – This was used in a similar fashion to Only, and again seems to have been a peculiarity of Matty’s speech. In most cases, it’s redundant: “We were far enough away that the shotgun wasn’t going to do any real serious damage, but it was enough to keep them away, at least for now.” So you can approach it two ways – either strike it, in which you’d rewrite the above to say “…it was enough to keep them away for now”, or you can use the approach that I used, making “at least” a more integral part of the conditional: “The Marauders were far enough away that it wasn’t going to do any serious damage, but it was enough to keep them from making a charge, at least for that moment.” As you can see, removing “at least” from that sentence would damage the message – the pause that “at least for that moment” affords is very important.

  • Shrugged – I never had any idea how often my characters shrugged in my stories until I began editing this work. I think we all have our own little oddities that our characters perform – biting lips (the writer whom I’m currently editing is guilty of this one), etc. In some cases, these can be used as “signatures”, to tell us a little more about the characters’ internal worlds. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with all my shrugging. Keep your eye out for such actions.

  • Right?– This is one of those rare words that I will strike from dialogue. My dialogue is typically sacrosanct once I feel I’ve captured the correct feel of a character’s voice, but this one ended up littering so many sentences that I had to go through and prune it. Here’s a particularly egregious example, from the opening of Book 2: “I was walking down this nasty-ass concrete hallway, right? This old, hollowed-out shell of a place that looked like something you’d expect under a bunker somewhere, with these strings of lights along the molding at the top of the walls.” Yes, this shows a lot of Matty’s character, but it’s messy and I’m just not crazy about it. The corrected version reads as such: “I walked down this nasty-ass concrete hallway, the kind you see in abandoned, overgrown bunkers (or so movies would tell me). Someone had strung a string of blue lights hung along the top of the walls, like they were celebrating Hanukkah in Hell.” Still captures quite a bit of Matty’s character, but I feel it’s a lot more precise. Yes, not everyone uses this, but this is an example of a catchphrase that can become overbearing. That’s what I’m hoping to help others avoid.
This is an ongoing learning process; I am collecting another set for the story that I am currently editing, and might share some of those, should they become more universally applicable. In the meantime, just another handy tool for your editing process.
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  1. I’m guilty of “then” and “only.” I tried, but couldn’t eradicate them as much as I wanted. I promise to do better next time.

    Passive voice is a tricky beast. I’ve seen people go through massive convolutions to avoid using the word “was.” The result is awkward and more wordy than ever. Sometimes “was” is the right word.

  2. My bad ones are despite, snapped, and little. 😀 Thanks so much for the post and for the G/C SO excited, I never win anything.!!!

  3. Congrats to the winners. Thanks for the contest, Jonathan.

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