Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Ugly Word

My grandmother was something special. Petite, warm, gracious, a southern debutante in her day, and a fiery college English teacher who loved the way language worked.

I remember lots of things about my grandmother, but one of the things that I think of most often, especially as a writer, was her distaste of the word, "got."

It's ugly, she said. It's slang. It's unspecific. You can always find a better, more exact word.

If you think about it, it's true. There is always a better word you can use.

Unless your character wouldn't.

Trying to match the beauty of language and the voice of your book is a tricky thing. When my narrator was an uneducated southern gal, the idea of her saying, "I received the letter in the mail" was preposterous. How uppity! A woman who flings words like "y'all" and "ain't" (oh I think my grandma is rolling in her grave!), would NOT say "received." She'd say "got."

And now, I'm finding the same in my new WIP. That ugly word sits at the top of the paragraph like a zit on a forehead. It's either my grandmother's influence or my genetic make-up that makes me keep going back to it to see if I can't find a better word. A prettier word. A more specific word.

But every time I try, it sounds stuffy and very unlike the voice I'm trying to create.

Are there words you just can't get away from?


  1. My debut novel, A Bitch Named Karma, is written in first person..everything, the entire book, is in my MC's voice. So much of it is not proper grammar because she would not use proper grammar, especially in dialogue. There were times I looked at it and wondered if I should change it...but in the end...I want my character to be real.

  2. Stephanie - my debut was the same - first person,incorrect grammar all over the place, but it didn't bother me at all.It was HER voice.

    This one is third person, but still the narration is tied very much to the character it's following, so now it bothers me! :)

    You're right... the characters have to be real, not grammatically correct (forgive me grandma!)

  3. LIKE.

    It pops up everywhere.

    I've had some well-intentioned readers correct the grammar in my fiction, and I had to politely shut up and accept it, knowing it'd stay the way I wrote it. Real people rarely have any kind of correct grammar. (Sadly!)

    Just keepin' it real over here, y'know.

  4. While revising recently, I realized how many LOOKs I had all over the place. Urg.

  5. Ha ha. I can just hear your grandmother. I have trouble with the word "just". :-)

  6. When I finished my latest manuscript, I did notice a few select words showing up a little too often and did a word search to correct them. Sometimes it almost seems, to me, a bit of rushing maybe, of not thinking a sentence through in the midst of writing.

  7. oh yeah- when I edited Trouble the first time I found the following words pop up way too often:


    I changed them or cut them. And I feel so good about it mwa ha ha ha ha

  8. oooh! All good words! I think I have problems with all of them... "just" is one of my problem words in emails. I've managed to be hyper-aware of it though so it's creating less a problem in my fiction.

  9. Your grandmother sounds like a great lady.
    I tend to use "but" more often than I should. Almost always delete it during revisions or come up with a different way to write the sentence.

  10. Pop it!

    No, I think that even "got" has its place. (So there, Grandma!)

  11. I "got" a few - "just" "and" & "but"

  12. some overused words ought to be banned, but 'got' is prevalent in some slang and dialect