Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Word Wednesday: Reflections from the editor's desk - BARRICADE THE EXITS!

In my opinion, there is entirely too much CSI on television. New York, Miami, LA, East Podunk. I get the picture--crime is everywhere. And the investigators are smart, sexy people with great educations and devastating logic. My beef is not with the stories or the actors. What I object to is the way writers have picked up on the noun “exit” used as a verb.

English is always turning nouns into verbs. Look at tasked or surfed. As a further example, until about the 1960s, jet was strictly a noun. Then people started flying in jets. They started jetting. That was cool; jet as a verb is exciting. It implies speed, high fashion, importance. It has an emotional content and descriptive power.

Not so exit. Police investigators are specifically trained to write emotion-free, neutral text to avoid prejudicing any possible prosecutions. Their reports are dry as dust: “The subject exited the area.” It may be accurate, but it certainly doesn’t carry the same impact as “The perp ran away,” does it?

I see exit so often in the submissions I edit that it has become a no-see-um, the ubiquitous New England pest. They’re barely visible, but their bite can jolt me right out of whatever I’m doing. And the last thing you want to do is jolt your readers out of your story.

Fiction writing is all about emotion. Every time you can choose an emotive word over a non-emotive word, do so. Exit is flat and boring. It shows the reader nothing about the character or the action. It’s an easy choice when you’re writing fast, but in your rewrites you should reserve it for police and military reports, stage directions, and computer instructions. Find verbs that play multiple roles—leave, emerge, step out, run away, saunter, take off, veer, sidle, slink, stride. A horse can exit a barn, or it can bolt, skitter, trot, slip, meander, or plod. See how each verb creates a different picture in your mind?

So barricade the exits. Do a search in your manuscript and examine each use of the word. Replace it ninety-nine times out of a hundred, and watch your writing come alive.

Nikki Andrews
Editor, Champagne Books

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