What is a DWL?
The new quarter of the Writer's Tribe™ gathered in The Gallery at Book Passage. Eight enthusiastic authors sat at a round table and discussed each other's manuscripts—giving and receiving feedback in the spirit of generosity and honesty. We looked for where the energy vibrates in each work-in-project (WIP). We suggested vivid details to build quintesssential characters and story worlds (settings). We pointed out awkward sentences or transitions that confused us. We read aloud our favorite sentences from each WIP. We brainstormed. We laughed. And we noshed! My vote for most delicious (and colorful) snack: a plate of fresh raspberries surrounding chocolate covered cherries. Yum! (Chocolate supercharges my imagination.)
As we combed through the manuscripts, I wrote words on the whiteboard which I refer to as "defective." (A teenage boy I tutor in Creative Writing coined the term years ago.) DWL=Defective Word List. :-) "Very" is one of my favorites. Mark Twain said: "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." I continue to offer up the list to my client authors as a tool to raise the standard and efficacy of every sentence they craft.
Build (and add to) your own list in a DWL titled document in your computer. The next time you're in the mood to improve your work, select your entire manuscript, press "command-F" and type in one or more of these words. Take the time to delete or substitute. Ask yourself: Is there a more active verb? How can I show rather than tell what that adverb means? Does my story need a superlative such as "very"? If yes, what is a more vivid adjective?
Here's your first set of DWs to search for and replace:
Example: Peter was very tired.
Better: Peter was weary.
Best: Peter's eyelids drooped, and though he tried not to, he yawned during the two hour long lecture.
Example: The teenager's mother reprimanded her for everything she did.
Better: The teenager's mother reprimanded her from the minute she woke up in the morning until she slammed her door at bedtime.
Best: The teenager's mother reprimanded her for the mold growing in the coffee cup on her desk, for wearing a crop top that bared her belly button to school, for her sassy tone and for slamming her bedroom door.
(Editor's note: The list that replaced "everything" further characterizes the teenager and layers the setting, possibly foreshadows plot, too.)
3) words ending in "ly" ... ie. death to adverbs!
Example: Amanda walked confidently into the reception.
Better: Amanda strode through the door of the reception hall.
Best: Amanda tossed her hat onto the rack at the coat check and helped herself to a glass of champagne.
This is a fun and rewarding exercise. Removing weak words and, instead, choosing robust words builds a better book. I welcome you to contribute to my list and demonstrate your determination to leave no word unexamined.