Writing Craft COULD YOU DO WITHOUT ‘COULD’? by Rayne Hall


In thirty years as an editor, I’ve found the same fatty words bloat the style of many authors.

 

Here is a notorious, fattening, calorie-rich word: ‘could’.  If you cut it from your diet, your writing style will be come sharper and tighter.

 

Beginner writers are prone to overusing it. Experienced authors may use it a lot in their

Rayne Hall

Rayne Hall

drafts, but edit it out in the final version.

 

Instead of telling us that the heroine could see, could hear, could smell or could feel something, let her see, hear, smell, taste, feel it. Simply cut the word ‘could’.

 

‘Could see’ becomes ‘saw’, ‘Could hear’ becomes ‘heard’, ‘could smell’ becomes ‘smelled’, ‘ could taste’ becomes ‘tasted’, ‘could feel’ becomes ‘felt’.

 

Better still: cut ‘see/hear/smell/taste/feel’ as well.  If you have established the point of view of your story, you don’t need to say that your PoV hears the sounds, smells the smells and sees the visions.

 

Obese version (before diet)

He could hear footsteps clanking down the stairs.

Overweight version (after mild diet)

He heard footsteps clanking down the stairs.

Slim version (after strict diet)

Footsteps clanked down the stairs.

 

Obese version (before diet)

She could see his lips beginning to twitch.

Overweight version (after mild diet)

She saw his lips beginning to twitch.

Slim version (after strict diet)

His lips twitched.

 

Obese version (before diet)

She could feel her cheeks firing.

Overweight version (after mild diet)

She felt her cheeks firing.

Slim version (after strict diet)

Her cheeks fired.

 

Obese version (before diet)

She could sense that something was wrong.

Overweight version (after mild diet)

She sensed that something was wrong.

Slim version (after strict diet)

Something was wrong.

 

Obese version (before diet)

He could understand that it was time to leave.

Overweight version (after mild diet)

He understood it was time to leave.

Slim version (after strict diet)

It was time to leave.

 

Obese version (before diet)

He could feel the air chill.

Overweight version (after mild diet)

He felt the air chill.

Slim version (after strict diet)

The air chilled.

 

Use your computer’s Find & Replace tool to count how many times you’ve used ‘could’, and cut most of them.

 

This will help make your writing style tight and toned.

 

 

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To learn more about Rayne Hall, please visit Meet the Contributors.

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11 thoughts on “Writing Craft COULD YOU DO WITHOUT ‘COULD’? by Rayne Hall

    • I agree completely. Wordy sentences can cause the reader to lose interest quickly. The right words evoke and provoke the right about of emotion in the reader, pulling them into the story without them knowing it.

  1. Thank you! This makes sense. I’m going back to check the current story blog I’m working on. I requested new posts from your blog via email. I’ll be checking back for more helpful hints!

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