Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Line Edits: Eight Ways to Reduce Your "Buts"

I had Monday off, so even though my son was home too, I managed to finish the first set of revisions of Scattered Seasons. (It's with beta readers at the moment. I already heard back from two of them, and I should get the rest of the comments by next month.) Most of the revisions were minor, but I had to remove a lot of "buts," not just from the middle of sentences, but also when I used it as the first word. The reason I wound up removing "buts" is because there were places where I used three or four of them close together, and it distracted my beta reader. All before and after comparisons listed below are from Scattered Seasons.

Most of the time, "but" is used to join two independent clauses into one compound sentence. In those instances, there are three obvious ways to eliminate the "but":

1. Split the compound sentence into two simple sentences.


(Before) “The Hall of Records in Wistica sends us information about future Avatars when they're born, but we’ll have to search through her office for the records.”   


(After) “The Hall of Records in Wistica sends us information about future Avatars when they're born. We’ll have to search through her office for the records.” 

2. Replace the "but" with a semicolon. (This may change the relationship of the sentences. Some people feel that semicolons don't belong in fiction; I say they can work if handled properly.)


(Before) She must have done it in other lives, but would she be able to do it in this one?



(After) She must have done it in other lives; would she be able to do it in this one?

 3. Replace the "but" with a semicolon and a "however," with a comma after "however." (This approach keeps the meaning intact but still bothers the semicolonphobes. I'm sure I had an example of this; however, it would take too long to find it again.)

If you're willing to rewrite your sentences, you can come up with some other ways to remove the "but."

4. Rewrite one of the independent clauses. (In the example below, I moved a phrase from the second sentence to the first. I had some other examples where I made the second clause dependent on the first.)


(Before) Aunt Gabri joined them as well. Her color was too pale, but she watched Kron as if she shared Gwen’s suspicions.


(After) Aunt Gabri joined them despite her pale complexion. She watched Kron as if she shared Gwen’s suspicions.

5. Change the "but" to an em dash. This may require a rewrite.


(Before) She wished she could study the pot close-up, but she wasn’t sure if it was safe to do so. 



(After) She wished she could study the pot close-up—if it was safe to do so.



Finally, you can remove the word (6) (if it's at the beginning of the sentence), one of the independent clauses (7), or the entire sentence (8). Here's an example of number 7:

(before) I understand, dear, but you keep driving and driving yourself without a break. 

(After) You keep driving and driving yourself without a break.  

I wound up removing between a third and a half of the marked "buts." Of course, I'm still sensitive to the word and keep finding more instances that no longer feel appropriate in context.

Are there any particular words that bother you when they're used too much?

7 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You know, I think I've only used a semicolon once in any of my stories.
Easiest for me to just break the sentence. But isn't the word I overuse as much as though. But the same solutions apply.

Sandra Almazan said...

It's funny how we come to rely on particular words, isn't it, Alex?

njmagas said...

I love semicolons, I just hate to see them abused. When I'm trying to delete pesky conjunctions though, I usually just re-order a single sentence. If I split it, it's usually for a rhythm reason.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

But I love butts, I mean buts. I see a semicolon in fiction and I throw the book against the wall. (Not really, because that would be hard on my tablet.) Emdashes are all right. The key is straggling your sentence lengths. Over focusing on any one element of writing doesn't help. Nothing wrong with buts. But on; keep on butting. Nothing wrong there. But who am I to say, but a lowly wannabe famous author.

Pat Dilloway said...

I like big buts I can't deny.

Sandra Almazan said...

Rhythm is important, njmagas.

Mac, why do you think semicolons don't belong in fiction?

Pat, ha!

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

I am beginning to cringe whenever I see the word "glance" in novels. It's extremely overused, especially in romance.

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