Notes on “a little”

sship practice
I seem to be always submitting stories, and then re-submitting them elsewhere. Sometimes when a story gets rejected, the editor includes some feedback. I do find it a fascinating education when the feedback from one editor is contradictory to that from another (such as “This story is too long given the premise”, versus, “I found myself wanting more development and exposition – it feels too compressed”). Things like that help me realise how much taste comes into an editors selection and not to give up on stories I’m sending off.

Recently, though, I got a nice piece of specific feedback: that the story contained numerous uses of “a little” in close proximity. Nice call. It sure does. “He moved back a little”, “the projection looked a little worn”, etc. I went through the story (with Word’s search function) and combed them out – changing some, removing some, and leaving a few, before sending it out again. I got another story back yesterday and took a look at that too. 28 instances of “a little” in 8700 words. Some of them within a line or two. It doesn’t make for good readability. How could I not pick that up in proofing? I think I’m going to refine my process and add in an extra proof-read specifically to look for this kind of thing – not just “a little”, but any words or phrases repeated in close proximity. With yesterday’s story I deleted a bunch of “a little”s, changed some (“a bit”, “partly”), and left some (sometimes it’s just what I meant). After all these years of writing, I’m still learning, sometimes even the simple stuff.