Thursday, June 30, 2011

But Watching

If it had been me seeing this posting title for the first time, I might have wondered if the spelling was right. I assure you that it's correct and this article is about watching out for the frequent usage of a particular conjunction. I write enough about butt watching in my romances.

Anyway, back when I defended using the word ‘was’ in my Stupid Writing Rules series, I almost attacked a ubiquitous word that shows up way more than it needs to; but. To this day, I haven’t seen any accomplished writers offer advice on how to find alternatives or avoid using it altogether...not that it hasn't been done.

For sure, I’m not advising you not to use 'but'. After I worked so hard to liberate new writers from the negative chains, I’m certainly not going to create a new one. It’s just that, in fairness, the B word makes a lot of cameos--the very same reason we got the infamous yet erroneous Don’t rules (I.E. don’t use was, don’t use clichés) and its frequent usage warrants some guidance.

Pick up a book and look at the jacket synopsis and I bet you’ll run into the subject of this posting about half way through the blurb. Why? Because ‘but’ is an opposition word. It automatically means trouble…which is what you’re supposed to put in your fiction. So, by all means, when it’s the perfect word, use it. There are just plenty of other ways to get the same effect. And if you keep using the same words to introduce trouble, your prose will start looking very flat to the reader. In other words, tension will die off in your story thanks to all the buts.

Ways to resist but: (as serious as I'm trying to be, I keep laughing as I write this)

• Synonyms. Although they can be too formal, just reviewing a few will at least remind you that the world can be a bigger place. Even the word ‘or’ slipped delicately in the right spot can have a stunning impact. I’ve used a couple of tricks already in this posting. You’ll notice I’ve not used ‘but’ once for opposition.
• Remove them. So many are unnecessary. The less you have, the stronger the ones you use will be.
• My favorite is to create an alternative. You want to be a writer, so start making stuff up. Below is the blurb for my latest title. Yeah, yeah, shameless plug. Give me a little room though, because it really does illustrate my point. Where a ‘but’ should be, I introduced another opponent in italics.

Another Cougar in Town

Renee Gafford’s libido and marriage is shredded when she finds out that her husband had a gay affair. Jessica, sexy cougar, sharp business woman, and Renee’s confidant since college, offers up a sure fire cure—one of her ex-boy toys, Adrian. The hook up does indeed turn steamy and voilà, the sparks reignite. Only one problem. Renee becomes very attached to the young charmer. Sensing that Jessica and Adrian still have feelings for each other, Renee can’t allow herself to be totally swept away by her BFF’s former lover. That is unless another young hunk sweetens the game.

By the ever opinionated E.C. Stacy


Anne Schroeder said...

Agreed. There's the increasingly popular "but" that needs no comma, as in tiny but cute nose. There's the "but" that negates everything that came before, I love you, BUT... (I think that's the one we hate.) And there's the overused qualifier, I would go(comma)but I need to fix my make-up first.

Personally, I like to start sentences with "but", and then I always go back and edit them out. They help me keep my flow so I don't sound choppy. They're just not much fun for the reader.

Anne Schroeder

Joanne Kennedy said...

Nice "but," E.C. :)