Saturday, March 31, 2012

You Say That, I Say Then

Thank goodness for Find and Replace. Despite all the headaches my laptop can start, I praise the search-and-destroy power of Find and Replace. Quick, someone Google the person who invented it. I want to send a glowing email.

All writers have voice and with that voice comes a tendency to overuse words. Sometimes, it's not obvious. Two examples: I wish Stephanie Meyer's editor had deleted about a dozen uses of glower. I understand why she used it with Edward, but it made me cringe after reading it every fourth or fifth page (I exaggerate, but not much). Another writer (a friend not affiliated with NN) who is published, overuses the word momentarily. Sure, there are a limited number of ways a writer can say, in a sec, but sprinkle them throughout your book for maximum effect.

I'm no saint (that's a cliche, but I'm off-topic). In my first book, which I'm querying, I began to notice I liked to use words that started with un-. After grinding un- through Find and Replace, I discovered 632 words that began with un- on 300 pages. You do the math (again, cliche). No, I'll do it for you: 2.11 un- words per page. I joked for several months that I'd written the Unbook. I ended up cutting about half of them, still not perfect, but much better.

Most overused words are simple ones. I tend to favor that and so. I do so love that pair. I used to go back and fix them after a draft, but I'm more aware of my habit and try to avoid them as I draft, which is why I write this post. Better to know thyself and save yourself the edits later. Therefore, here is the list of the most frequently used crutch words:

some, well, thing, OK, just (evil word), actually, certainly, really, lots, for a moment, that (my dear friend), then, slightly, only, almost (almost never needed), personally, often, sometimes, breathtaking, since, because, a bit, perhaps, maybe, more, so, very and (another personal fav) even. Also, be on the watch for look.

It's unrealistic to never use these words. That would be cramp-inducing. Minimizing their use strengthens your work. One simple trick to see if you've overused a word without rereading your book page-by-page is to use the lovely Find and Replace. Put the word in question in Find and the same word in Replace. Hit Replace All. You'll get a count of how many times the word has been used.

So, was that helpful? What are your crutch words?


Brenda said...

"Just" wanted to let you know this post was "so" helpful!

LOL, I laughed and nodded while reading your post because I am guilty of over using some of the same words "that" you do.

In fact, I tend to over use a lot of the words you listed. I actually use those words a lot in my real life.

So, just, well, actually, that, and okay are my fav words.

Jennifer Fulford, Novelist said...

wish i could break many of my habits