Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do You Check Out Buts?

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


Dean K Miller said...

I'm not so sure if I need fewer buts, or just one that's not so big!

Too many buts will have us butting our heads together in agony.

But really, I should stop now, but I can't....

Chiseled in Rock said...



NC Weil said...

If you read your work aloud, you will hear repetitions better than if you just look at words. I agree, "but" sneaks in there - I've used it twice in a single sentence (then rewrote). Though, yet, however, in spite of that - there are myriad ways to express opposition. But continual opposition leaves the reader spinning.

Sisters of the Quill said...

Great got me at the title. Some should be "and" (helps with understatement to juxtapose the real with the unreal without a but). Throw the rules out the door sometimes and put 10 buts in one sentence. Fiction, it's all good if done in an engaging manner. Go Buts!!!!