Last night I was editing a story I hadn’t looked at in a while — it needed some TLC and the 10% cut (you know, the rule about trimming 10% of the words…that’s a GOOD edit). I dug it out because it was one of those rare times when a magazine was in the market for A, B, X, and Q, and I just happened to have a story that hit all those points…one so specialized that I had effectively trunked it. Never say never.
In looking over the manuscript, though, I was startled to find the constant repetition of one word: extract. Not the typical word of choice for most “I abuse this word too much” lists. For most normal people, those words are things like: “then” and “just” and “that.” If you are Dean Koontz or Stephen King, those words are “preternatural” and “ennui.” And had I not written the word FIVE TIMES IN THE FIRST FOUR PAGES, it might have escaped my notice altogether. (As it was, it had already escaped Gypsy’s red-pen edit.) There was a checkbook extracted from a purse, hair extracted from under something heavy, an item extracted from a pocket, a candle extracted from inside a jack o’lantern, and cat’s claws extracted from an arm. (I kept the cat claws, but extracted all the others.)
It makes me wonder what frame of mind I was in when I wrote the story…what subliminal message I was trying to tell myself. Was I in a situation from which I needed to extract myself or someone else? Perhaps the word was an earworm, mentioned in a movie or on the street and spun on quiet repeat in my memory banks. Perhaps it was just coincidence. Whatever the reason, I’ll be reconsidering the next time I write the word “extract” in a sentence.
Unless it’s Scrabble, in which case I’ll happily take ALL those points.
Do you have a word or phrase that haunts your writing?