Monday, 14 July 2008

Professional Blog Writing (part 3) - We are our most annoying words

Most writers are aware of the FOG index. This is a fairly simple formula to discover how readable your text is. Wikipedia has a definition here.  For those adverse to maths Lichfield District council, who obviously pride themselves on clear communication, has an online FOG index checker that claims to be accurate within reasonable limits. Generally you are aiming for a FOG index of no more than twelve if you want your text to be appealing and ten if you're writing for a tabloid.

We all  have favorite turns of phrase. My six year old now launches into imparting all his nuggets of wisdom with the preface 'By the Way', which is remarkably annoying. But then when I'm writing I'm prone to use certain words again and again that would doubtless drive my reader mad if I didn't ruthlessly prune them. A quick search of the net tells me there are relatively cheap programs such as this one that analyze your word patterns. But back in the old days when I was learning to write (and the air was thick with pterodactyls) you had to resort to combing through selected passages of past writing and simply searching for those annoying common words. Here are some of mine. 
  • Just and almost - a suggestion perhaps that my psyche is always on the edge of madness. 
  • Really, quite and actually - intimating I can't quite believe what I'm writing myself? 

Over use of qualifiers is not unusual i.e. my major faults are actually quite common. (The shame!) But also look out for over use of favorite colors. There is nothing more irritating that discovering everything in a short story is 'sea-green' from the heroine's eyes to the color of the sky. Another danger is unusual verbs and obscure words. 

We all try to write well, but as writers we do fall in love with certain expressions and words. Sometimes these are because they represent an underlying issue in our psyche (like my I don't believe this myself!). Sometimes it's because those around us overuse certain phrases - in the '80s none of my friends in the computer industry could start a sentence unless they said 'basically' first. - And sometimes it is simply because we have fallen in love with certain words (the more uncommon we perceive them to be the more likely this is.) To a certain extent this is our signature voice, but any voice can become annoying (Basically, By the Way, Didn't you know?). Be aware of your word patterns. 

Being aware of these patterns also helps immeasurably in creating the unique voice of individual characters in fiction. By deliberately assigning a word pattern to a character you can make them jump off a page as easily as if you had put them in dialect.

1 comment:

fiona glass said...

I'm with you on the just, almost, really and actually. My other favourite, for some reason that escapes me, is 'that'. Every sentence ends up peppered with unnecessary 'thats' and I have to prune those out mercilessly.