On High Alert for Rhetorical Tics
Ticks are gross; they take up residence and suck your blood, often without you being aware of them.
Rhetorical tics are a little less gross, but can have an equal impact on a narrative, sucking it of vitality. Growing up in the very rural landscape of Mendocino County, I had my fair share of ticks. Apparently, I’m also prone to the other kind, the ones that are slyly working their way under the skin of the narrative, gorging themselves on the story’s lifeblood.
I’ve written my second novel, One Man Reservation, three times now, and a series of trusted readers have consistently given me the same feedback: more action, less thinking, and a more finessed sense of landscape. Since the book started out as memoir, it might be taking me longer than many people to get the required objectivity on the work (and which part of the dope-growing, pistol-wielding, student-kissing is true, I’m loathe to share).
Since much of the feedback concerns the action – or lack thereof – or thinking in the wrong places, I decided to take one big humble pill and do a search for certain words I sense I rely on too much. (See the note at the bottom of the page for specific directions on how to do this). Despite the chagrin I feel about STILL HAVING TO LEARN THIS ISSUE, I will share with you the sad, sad findings. Here’s the tic tally:
- “remember” 56 times
- “imagine” 43 times
- “thought” 89 times
- “think” 89 times
- “wonder” 45 times
- “reach” 45 times (Zane is often “reaching” toward other characters with her thoughts)
- “urge” 31 times
- “wonder” 25 times (oh, please, Zane – stop wondering!)
and the most startling finding:
-195 instances of felt (although I have yet to dig further and see how many of these are synonyms of touch)
I have worked through two of these tics, reducing “remember” to 11 and “imagine” to 6. This is only one small aspect of the required changes, but it’s a start.
And for a writing teacher that constantly encourage students to make sure to include a visceral quality in their work, I doubly cringe at this: in a draft that has over 68,000 words it appears there are only six tastes and one touch (but, again – maybe those are some of the “felt.” Please, let’s hope that’s what is going on). Refreshingly, there are 34 smells and 62 references to something being “heard.”
I’m grateful to the readers who slogged through all that thinking and feeling and imaging, humbled by their persistence in a narrative with so little action, decision, and consequences. And even if I didn’t feel beholden to the characters in One Man Reservation, I’d need to return to the work, revising, revising, revising, because of the faith shown to the work by these early readers. I’ll get rid of those tics, so the story can live more fully. So help me, I will.
(To complete your own tic findings, follow these steps:
1. In word, open up your document
2. Under the “edit” function, open the “find” option
3. Once this tab is open, choose “replace”
4. This will open up a window on the left-hand side of your document that allows you to search for specific words).
5. Have fun and take a few deep breaths to see what your patterns are.)
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