At the moment I’m balancing several projects in various states. I was in the process of getting beta reads done on my contemporary skydiving book and got feedback from Wendy that I’d developed the habit of starting sentences with “And” and “But” more frequently. Sure enough, I did a search and it was an embarrassing number. Only a few days later, I got the first round of edits on Sarai’s Fortune back from my editor, Lill. She had a similar comment. In addition, she spotted a lot more “so” and “then” usages.
Every good editing and writing workshop I’ve taken has touched on limited use of these words. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear either never use them or use them sparingly and with purpose. Why? Frequently these words are filler words and can read as sloppy writing. In addition, starting sentences with them is often a clue that you can combine sentences or reword both sentences for better flow.
With that in mind, I thought we’d look at some recent examples in the books I’m writing/editing at the moment. I’ll do both examples where I changed things and examples where I kept it.
Use of “and” to start a sentence.
Original from Sarai’s Fortune: She was off her game today. And she knew why, but, with a deep breath, she forced the thoughts plaguing her to the back of her mind and concentrated only on the moment.
Redone To: She was off her game today, and she knew why. With a deep breath, she forced the thoughts plaguing her to the back of her mind and instead focused on the moment.
Why: I redid this one because the “and she knew why” goes more with the “off her game sentence” than with the next one.
From Blue Violet: “She doesn’t know anything. Not yet at least. And don’t even think about using my telepathy on them.”
Why: I think of a period as a harder pause than a comma. I will bypass official “rules” when writing dialogue if that’s the way I hear it when speaking.
Use of “then.”
Original from Blue Violet: Ellie blew out a long breath then said softly, “I’m not ready to talk about that yet.”
Redone To: Ellie blew out a long breath. “I’m not ready to talk about that yet.”
Why: Ellie blowing out the long breath already gives you an idea of how she might say the words. The “then she said softly” is a minor bit of telling when her actions already have enough information.
From Tieryn’s Fury: “You told Sarai you supported the Kuharte efforts.” Tieryn tried not to grind her teeth in exasperation with her Alpha—who also happened to be her father.
“I am,” he agreed with a calm she didn’t trust.
“Then why aren’t we going?” she asked.
Why: Another example where natural speech overrides a rule of thumb.
Use of “so.”
Original from Tieryn’s Fury: She wanted to believe him, but the timing had been too suspicious. She flipped over to turn on the lamp then turned back so she could see his face. “He didn’t want me to go. What if—”
Redone To: She wanted to believe him, but the timing had been too suspicious. She flipped over to turn on the lamp and studied his face. “He didn’t want me to go. What if—”
Why: The “so” in this case could be followed by the mental tag of “duh.” Of course she’s turning on the lamp to see him better, no need to spell it out.
From Blue Violet: “I’m so glad you decided to come. And I won’t push you to get involved with my…little project.”
Why: In this case, you could drop the “so” and not lose the impact. However, people naturally slot in the word so when they talk. So keep.
Use of “but” to start a sentence.
Original from Tieryn’s Fury: “I couldn’t explain what happened, because I was so young at the time. But I knew that I’d disappeared and woke up when the paramedics got there.”
Redone To: “I couldn’t explain what happened, because I was so young at the time. All I knew was I woke up on the ground outside the car when the paramedics got there.”
Why: Unlike the “Keep” from above, in this instance, when I said the dialogue out loud, the “But” starting this sentence threw it off. In addition, if she didn’t know what happened, then how did she know she disappeared? Two birds, one stone.
From Sarai’s Fortune: She felt bad for Andie’s father. As Walter Carstairs’s second-in-command, Mark Reynolds carried a lot of guilt. But blame never benefited anyone.
Why: This was a very deliberate keep. Yes I could have put a comma in there, but I wanted to be clear that the thought about blame was Sarai’s opinion and not something Mark might be thinking. I always wanted the idea/thought to stand out more.
These examples were all basic changes. There are some instances where you’ll end up rewriting the entire sentence or even paragraph to smooth it out. Just be careful not to make the language even more awkward by trying to force these words out. There are times to remove and alter. There also times to keep these words in.