Monday, April 13, 2009


The word "and" is used to group things together:

My floor is littered with dirty laundry and dishes. I wake up and jump from my bed to the door so I can dodge the debris.

But lately I'm starting to wonder if the word leads to imprecision and inequality in much of my prose. has over 17 uses for the word, including two idioms. Of these, I think only one use of the word is truly indispensible--"and" used to connect alternatives (you have to choose between this and that). Other uses for the word include connecting objects, phrases, or actions; using "and" to imply continuation; or using "and" in place of "but"...among others.

The times when "and" leads to the weakest writing on my part is when I use it to allow myself to not commit to any one emotion or characteristic. He was tired and hungry. The house was large and dramatic. There's nothing particularly wrong with these sentences but using them allows me to be lazy as a writer. Take the first example. He was tired and hungry. Yes. But wasn't he also a thousand other things like warm or cold, confused or alert? Why can I narrow his state down to two choices but not one? Chances are, given the context, I probably can narrow it down to one. He was hungry, so he headed to the kitchen. -or- He was tired, so he headed to bed.

From a reader's point of view, I think lumping such things together also confuses the information the writer is providing. In the example above, saying he is tired dilutes his hunger, just as saying he is hungry dilutes his tiredness. As a result, the character's state gets blurred, and the reader comes away with a general impression of him, but nothing precise.

When the word is used to connect actions, I think the same sort of blurring often occurs. He got out of the car and slammed the door. He walked to the house and dug out his keys. It's the same idea. "He" actually performs a thousand other actions during this trip that I, as writer, considered to be too insignificant to include, but why can't I narrow down the actions even further?

I think cutting out "and" forces a writer to make more decisions, which in turn makes the prose feel more secure. A reader knows that if we are able to choose the most important details, then we can probably tell a story without wasting too much of their time.

As with all things, this is not a rule that I have set in stone for myself. But, I do think that cutting the word out of my writing more often has made my stories more vivid and entertaining.


  1. Interesting. I've never really thought about it that way. I'm sure I'll be looking for this in my edits. Of course it won't apply to everything, but tightening is always a good thing.

    Thanks for the post. :) And stuff.

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  3. You're so meticulous! You need to be a teacher :)

  4. Everything has its time and place, and the use of many literary tools depends on style:

    "He wallowed down in the scree and pulled off one boot and laid it over the rocks and lowered the forearm of the rifle down into the leather and pushed off the safety with his thumb and sighted through the scope."

    - Cormac McCarthy, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

    He used "and" five times in that sentence, although they separate clauses depicting action, not adjectives.

  5. Such a good thing for me to think about. I could do with slicing a few ands.

  6. My brain is so overwhelmed, I can't tell if you're straining at gnats or making a valid point. I'll consider it and brush my teeth tonight.

  7. Good point. Nevertheless, sometimes I need "and". Sometimes I even like to have more than one in one sentence. But this will make me rethink whether I really need that "and" in a sentence.


  8. I have thought about this when it comes to creative writing. It seems to make things a bit odd, formal, academice sometimes. I can see your point...totally!

  9. Screaming Guppy, this is a new thought for me, so I'm still sort of questioning how I feel about it. But, I do think it's something I'll stick with.

    Beth, Hmmm...very few people call me meticulous. I wish I was!

    Rick, how do you feel about that sentence? Do you like it?

    Lotusgirl, I think I noticed the ands in my own writing because I was using a lot of them.

    Justus, don't forget to floss.

    Krisz, I used to use more than one and in a sentence, but then I realized I was just trying to sound like Hemingway and McCarthy instead of like myself.

    Litgirl, thanks for your thoughts. It makes me feel better that this has occurred to someone else too. :) Makes me feel so much less weird.

  10. I started cutting "and" out when I joined my critique group. A girl in there that would be looking at my work HATES the word and. So I consciously started cutting a lot of them and making more decisions, as you say.

    This is a great post! You explain things clearly and make good points.

    Rick makes a great point about style, though. I've read works where "and" works beautifully, but in most cases, it usually just gets in the way and (hehe) weakens the writing.

  11. "He wallowed down in the scree and pulled off one boot and laid it over the rocks and lowered the forearm of the rifle down into the leather and pushed off the safety with his thumb and sighted through the scope."This is very much in the style of Hemingway in "A Farewell to Arms," and this kind of prose does seem awkward at first, I think, but after a couple of pages you fall into the rhythm of it despite the mannerism.

    I think that too often we use "and" to chain ideas together out of laziness. We sort of use a shorthand, tossing out imgages, burying the reader when we aren't quite sure what we want to say. To write, as you use for an example, "He was tired and hungry" is fine if that's exactly what we mean, but if we're just throwing out decriptors because our prose looks thin, then we're just being lazy. "It was a beautiful day and the sky was solid blue" is easier than describing a beautiful day. And maybe, as you suggest, that it's a beautiful day with a blue sky isn't really important to the story after all.

    I agree that lumping descriptive words together dilutes the impact of each thing. But I am not willing to say we should start avoiding "and." I am willing to say we should consider if what we're writing is what we actually mean to say.

    My personal most-hated word right now is "very." I think it serves little purpose but to fill in space between a verb and its adjective, weakening both; it doesn't intensify the adjective at all. "It was hot" is much stronger than "It was very hot."

  12. YIKES! My manuscript is littered with the word and. Thanks, Davin! :)

  13. "and" is another one of those words that can either work very well, or simply fall like a brick from the sky. Why I don't think all connecting 'and' example are weak, that is if used sparsely. Perhaps, that's part of varying sentence structures.

  14. Lady Glamis, This is a very recent observation for me. I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels this way.

    Scott, I agree that the ands can create a sort of rhythm. But, I end up wondering if it's something "good" versus something "tolerable." I almost feel like I admire the use of the ands in great writers only because I've told myself that they are great writers. I'm not sure. Very and really suck.

    Robyn, Just ask yourself if they are working or not. Maybe they are there for very good reason in your manuscript.

    Crimogenic, variation. Yes, variation is often key!

  15. Too many "and" sentences can grow tiresome. But one has to make sure one doesn't go on an "and" witchhunt, which would only result in the abuse and overuse of some other word/sentence structure.


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