Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Zap! Word Cruft

"Don't forget, actually, as a matter of fact, what really happened is that there's far too much Word Cruft in this example."

-TvTropes's Editing Tips Worksheet

I can't stand word cruft. I see 'pretty much' and 'actually' and 'quite a bit' and I want to ZAP them. I'll see it in a newspaper and I'll mentally edit it out. I feel compelled to do this; part of the reason came from editing A Mage's Power ten times over but most of the blame goes to Tvtropes. That's why it's quoted at the top of this article.

Sometimes I think my fellow tropers believe that adding more words means adding more power. It is the opposite; the more words a sentence has the less meaningful it is. Which sounds stronger to you?

1. "The hero jumped into the mob's path and shouted, 'STOP!'"


2. "Basically the hero pretty much jumped into the mob's path and actually shouted, 'STOP!'"

I had trouble writing the second one because I couldn't decide where to place the word cruft. That's because they're interchangeable! They do nothing more than make the sentence longer; literary padding. When I read a book for review, word cruft is one of the things I look for.

Sentences are stronger when the reader does not have to climb over superfluous words to arrive at the meaning of a sentence. Adding a 'though' at the end feels like a car hitting a pot hole; it breaks the momentum and brings the action to a screeching halt. The presence or absence of word cruft can mean the difference between an A and an A+. As an author myself, I would rather brag about the latter than the former. (for other red flags, click here.)

The only situation where word cruft is acceptable is when it is used for characterization. If a character says "Basically" at the start of every sentence, that becomes a verbal tic and distinguishes them from other characters. An author can use this to avoid putting 'Character X said' at the end of their sentence or as a hint to a mystery character's secret identity. In all other cases, ZAP!

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