Tripping Over Prepositions, Coming Apart at the Seems

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By Precarious Yates

Lately, in the process of learning to write with greater power and skill, there are two aspects of my writing that I’m combating:

  1. Using a preposition in the place of a verb. *shudder*
  2. Using ‘almost’, ‘seemed’ and ‘tried’ in the place of what my characters are really doing.

Attacking these two weaknesses in my writing have strengthened my prose, and here’s why.

I’ve seen sentences in my writing where I default to a preposition rather than using a verb. Take that previous sentence as an example. Let me rewrite it using an active verb where I used just a preposition:

I’ve written sentences where I’ve defaulted to using a preposition rather than employing a verb.

Much clearer, less jumbled writing, even when there are more words, flow much faster. If you want to squeeze out a word, don’t let it be the verb!

Like adverbs and adjectives, prepositions are amazing and wonderful words—in their rightful place. Never use a preposition in the place of a verb, since it weakens the prose by leaps and bounds. The only exception, I would say, could be in dialogue where this may be necessary.

Now on to number two: the use of almost, seemed and tried. If you want to make me cry, you can dredge up old writing of mine where I almost seemed to try to write what my character was doing. That last sentence was painful, I agree!

Let’s look at this dilemma up close, since there may be instances where ‘seem’, ‘try’ and ‘almost’ would be necessary. At the end of the day, most of the instances in my own writing were my own laziness, or my rushing through a scene. Let’s look at a sentence from my current WIP where my character is in blinding darkness:

Shunda noticed a strange smell and taste to the waters about him, and in some places the water seemed thicker than in others.

Let’s try a rewrite of this sentence:

A metallic and sickly sweet smell filled the ocean around Shunda, and he clamped his mouth tight as his arms flailed through a viscous cloud.

The word ‘seemed’ sapped the first sentence of its power. Noticing that, I could go back and tighten up the wording. In the second instance I used more words, but tightening up the writing doesn’t mean less words, it simply means using each word more powerfully. Without saying what my character couldn’t see, you could feel it, smell it, taste it (yuck, sorry I had to do that to you).

The words ‘try’ and ‘almost’ will do the same thing to your story—sap it of its power. There are times where these words are necessary, but begin to learn when to fight for those times. You don’t want to get rid of every instance, like I did with the word ‘that’ once, and what a disaster that was! You want to be intentional with every use of these words. They tell when you could show.

If you’re writing from one character’s POV and another character seems to have an emotion, instead of saying ‘Shunda seemed to be exhausted,’ show this with a rewrite of:

Shunda’s shoulders and eyes drooped as he shuffled his feet through the sand.

Find two or three instances of ‘seem’ in your manuscript and rewrite them. Trust me, your story will carry much more weight without these word dragging them down.



Precarious YatesPrecarious Yates is a shepherdess and chicken farmer living in the middle of the USA, 500 miles from the nearest beach. She hopes to live closer to the ocean soon. While in Ireland, she lived one mile from the Atlantic Ocean. Those landscapes and seascapes inspired The Heart of the Caveat Whale trilogy. The Captives is the first book of this trilogy.



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