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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Want People to Listen to You?

I edit book manuscripts. When I discover an epidemic, like any good citizen, I must report it and warn against the dangers the disease can aggravate. Such diseases include (but are not limited to) over-use of a word, misuse of a word (and, then, but, well), abuse of commas, and a few hundred others. Today I wish to address the threat of the deadly… er… uh… um… , known as PFS (Pause Filler Syndrome). I put on my doctor’s white coat, place the stethoscope around my neck, and ask you to say “Ahhh” before placing your mask firmly over your fingers, leaving your eyes exposed so you can read on:

As speakers, when we talk off the cuff, spontaneously, without notes, we often insert the occasional uh, um or er to let our brains catch up to our tongues. If you ever attended a meeting of Toastmasters, you may have seen members fined for using these place-holders. The best speakers use a pause to take a breath while keeping their tongues quiet.

As writers, we let characters do the speaking (it’s called dialog). If you’re giving your characters unique sounding voices, you may let one of them hesitate and use the viral er, um or uh. But please, do so sparingly. Nothing holds up a reader more than too many ers, ums and uhs in dialog. Once I found an average of 75 of these germs per page in a writer’s ms. (yes, I counted). In addition, the writer kept adding the words: She paused. and He paused. By the time I removed most of the diseased words, the manuscript was considerably shortened — and activated.
Writers groan; readers cheer!

There is a difference between spoken and written words. Symptoms of oncoming PFS in writing include the deadly symptom of double verbing: making an attempt to write, rather than attempting to write. Or, taking the time to call home, rather than calling home. Or, I think; in my opinion; I feel, I sorta kinda gotta do this… and other place-holders. If you are writing an opinion piece, you don’t need any of those words (especially sorta, kinda, gotta). Your words — all of your words are your opinion, or you wouldn’t be writing them.

Read over the last few pages you just wrote. How many place-holders can you find? Do you need them? Does your character need them? Or are you just stalling while your brain catches up?

While waiting for the next idea or word, take a deep breath, speak slowly, pace your words to stay with of your brain — and reap the wonders of fine writing!

You will be more easily believed. Your writing will become more active (and publishable). You may rewarded with improved book sales, lower editing costs, or a raise from your boss. Most importantly, you will sound more authoritative.

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