Editing the Crutch Word Could

Healing Stones coverDecember has been unexpectedly busy outside my writing life, so I’ve not completed all I planned this month. That includes releasing Healing Stones, book 4 in the Castle Keepers series. The final edits are taking place. It will be released near the end of January.

One of the many edits of a manuscript includes searching for specific words to see if I’ve overused them. These are often called crutch words. A selection of these crutch words are filter words, words that show the story through the lens of a character instead of allowing the reader to experience the story first hand.

Filter words include ‘heard’, ‘felt’, ‘watched’ and ‘noticed’. For a more detailed explanation of filter words, check out my post: Filter Words: Who Knew? Not me.

I have a list of personal crutch words I use when editing, and it’s always changing. Some words, such as ‘that’, have been removed because as soon as I write that word, a red flag waves in my brain, and I remove it if unnecessary. I am no longer a ‘that girl’.

While words go, others come. Thanks to Ernesto San Giacomo, author of Storm of Divine Light: The Tales of Tyrennia book 1, and his post, Editing Crutch Words, I’ve added the word ‘could’.

Personally, I thought I did pretty good with eliminating ‘could’ from my writing and using it exactly when I needed to. However, a quick search discovered more than 300 ‘could’ words in my manuscript of almost 140,000 words. While that’s not horrible, I decided to evaluate each one to see if the sentence benefited from its removal.

While I’m still working through this exercise, what I’ve discovered is many sentences have improved after removing ‘could’. Sometimes it caused word reduction; other times, it increased word count.

While I wasn’t hell-bent on removing every ‘could’, I was set on removing clusters of ‘could’ words in a section. There were times I saw three ‘could’ words highlighted within one paragraph or within a few short paragraphs. These were my real targets.

Here are a few examples from Healing Stones.

ORIGINAL #1

Isla didn’t care about gold, magical horses or money. They couldn’t heal Kiefer. Only powerful magic or a potent natural remedy would return his health. If she could locate a cure, it’d be worth all the coins in her pouch.

NEW #1

Gold, magical horses and staffs didn’t interest Isla. They couldn’t heal Kiefer. Only powerful magic or a potent natural remedy held the means to rejuvenate his health. If she found a cure, it’d be worth all the coins in her pouch.

ORIGINAL #2

“I’d ask where I’d find a treasure chest full of gold,” said McGuigan over his shoulder. “Then I could buy a faster horse.” He chuckled. “What would you ask?”

She considered the idea, and her gaze fell upon Liam. Several questions came to mind, including, What was that thing on his back? Under her scrutiny, he grew uneasy. “Maybe, what is…or who is…” She teased him with the beginnings of questions to see his expression change as he finished them in his mind. “No, I’d ask, who am I going to…” she paused, letting time slip by. His lips closed, and he tried to look away, but he couldn’t. A real question came to mind, and she sat up, wondering if the Mystic Weslia could answer it. If she could, she’d visit as soon as they settled.

NEW #2

“I’d ask the location of a treasure chest full of gold,” said McGuigan over his shoulder. “Then I’d buy a faster horse. What would you ask?”

Her gaze fell upon Liam, and several questions came to mind. “Maybe, what is…” that thing on his back? His expression changed as he mentally finished the question. “No, I’d ask, Who is my…” mate? Again, she paused to allow his imagination to fill in the blank. His lips closed, and he tried to break eye contact but failed. A real question came to mind, and she sat up, wondering if the Mystic Weslia had the answer. If she did, she’d visit as soon as they settled.

ORIGINAL #3

She stepped away. “You look ready for The Trail.”

“More like La-la Land.” McGuigan chuckled as he passed.

Liam composed himself and turned away. Had he been that obvious? He couldn’t be; he didn’t want her to love him. He only wanted to… The pain in his chest returned. What he wanted was exactly what he could never have.

NEW #3

She stepped away. “You look ready for The Trail.”

“More like La-la Land.” McGuigan chuckled as he passed.

Liam composed himself quickly. Had he been that obvious? He didn’t want to be. He only wanted to… Pain flared up in his chest. What he wanted was impossible to obtain.

ORIGINAL #4

They approached the backside of the pillory, so the boy trapped in the device couldn’t see them.

NEW #4

They approached the backside of the pillory to avoid detection by the boy trapped in the device.

ORIGINAL #5

Lyneth provided a lift with her knee and clasped hands for Liam to climb onto the roof of the low-sided shed that sat on the perimeter of the small grassy hill in the centre of the village. The man felt so light, she was certain she could toss him up unaided. His strength, what remained, had returned to his legs, and he walked swiftly. Whether he could run any distance remained a mystery.

NEW #5

Lyneth provided a lift with her knee and clasped hands for Liam to climb onto the roof of the low-sided shed that sat on the perimeter of the small grassy hill in the centre of the village. The man weighed so little, she hoisted him into position without straining a muscle. His strength, what remained after spending days entangled in the tree, had returned to his legs, and he walked swiftly. His ability to run any distance remained a mystery.

ORIGINAL #6

McGuigan watched the two hauflins. Although Isla trusted Liam fully, he needed more time. Liam’s past could pounce on them at any moment, a dangerous past that could kill them all.

NEW #6

McGuigan watched the hauflins. Although Isla trusted Liam fully, he needed more time. Liam’s past could ambush them at any moment, a dangerous past that had the potential to kill everyone in its path.

ORIGINAL #7

Liam couldn’t argue with the boy. He’d dropped out with three years remaining. It wasn’t like he could attend as a homeless child. He followed them onto the path leading to the front door, focussing on his longer elf legs, which felt strange and fooled his eyes. He had stumbled around the first day, trying to get familiar with where to place them correctly. Although he still occasionally tripped, he could walk fairly confidently.

NEW #7

Liam had no defence against the boy’s stance. He’d dropped out with three years remaining because the system wasn’t designed to educate homeless boys.

He followed them onto the path leading to the front door. His long elfin legs felt strange and fooled his eyes. He had stumbled many times the first day in disguise. Although he still occasionally tripped, he walked fairly confidently.

Like other edits, when I focus on one section or one paragraph, I find other things to change. I tighten or expand where necessary. The above samples were extracted from the manuscript and re-worked on a separate screen to sharpen my focus.

Now back to my ‘could’ hunt.

3 thoughts on “Editing the Crutch Word Could

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