Ginny McBlain,
    Romance Writer

Ginny's Writing Tips

Those Pesky Red Flag Words

I was taught to puke out the story and clean it up later.

You've puked out the first draft and experienced the immense satisfaction of starting at page one and telling your story to the end. Wow! You deserve a pat on the back. However, you aren't finished yet. It's time to clean up the manuscript. Part of the process is fixing sentence construction errors. The following list is what I call red flag words:

after as because
before caused during
felt had it
just made only
seems slightly that
to be until was
when while with

From the beginning of our writing careers, we've been told to watch out for had, was, especially in conjunction with an -ing word, that and forms of to be. They signal passive sentence construction.

As used at the beginning of a sentence usually is simultaneous action, but it is also passive. As used in the middle of the sentence frequently is a motivation-reaction unit out of whack.* If the M-R unit is okay, substituting and for as is a more active construction.

Something happens because. Try dropping because and writing two sentences.

Caused and made slow the action.

It dilutes your writing. Replace it with a noun to strengthen your sentence.

Qualifiers such as seems, just, only, before, with, after, and while scream telling. Rewrite sentences beginning with any of these words and show your point.

Felt jumps off the page. Show your character's emotions.

Keep in mind each of the words discussed is legitimate in the English language. There will always be times when you must use red flag words, but they call for a second look.

*Read about motivation-reaction units in Dwight V. Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, University of Oklahoma Press.