All of us who write have favorite words. I notice that mine even change day to day.

image - editing checklistA word that is often overused and which weakens the writing when it is overused is the word could.

· He could see the river.

· She could smell the freshly cut hay.

· He could taste the anchovies in the salad dressing.

You get the idea.

It’s usually stronger to have the character experience things rather than inserting could into the experience. If he is seeing the river then it’s clear he could see it and could is superfluous. A lot of the time when we use could it keeps experiences tethered to the simple and not very interesting and often seems to keep us from going that extra bit further to add a bit of extra detail to the experience the character is having.

For example:

He could see the river. [with could]
He saw the river. [without could…but really not very strong.]
The river snaked through the small rural community [ is much stronger than simply he saw the river. ]

She could smell the freshly cut hay. [with could]
She smelled the freshly cut hay. [without could…but still not very strong.]
The sweet smell of fresh cut hay brought memories of past hay cutting seasons. [much stronger than she could smell the fresh cut hay.]

He could taste the anchovies in the salad dressing. [with could]
He tasted the anchovies in the salad dressing. [without could…but still not very strong.]
The anchovies lent a soft fishy flavor to the the salad dressing. [much stronger than he could taste the anchovies in the salad dressing.]

As you can see, could is a good candidate for the final editing checklist. It’s not so much about removing could…though that is a good step. It is more about strengthening the underlying structure…adding that bit more texture that is often lost when we use could to say that he could experience something instead of showing what he does indeed experience.

This post is adapted from my recent workshop 8 Days To Smoother Writing. Check out the writing workshops page to find out about upcoming workshops.


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