Thursday, August 20, 2009

Overused Words

At out last Carolina Conspiracy workshop Jim and Joyce asked everyone to be mindful of words they overuse in their writing. I made a list of words I use and my list was longer than I though it would be. I ran them through search and find and was amazed at the number of unnecessary words I found in my work in progress. I decided to do a little editing as I went along so it wouldn’t be as hard when the serious editing started.

That: I knew I overused the word that, but I didn’t know how much. The best test to see if it is necessary is to say the sentence without it and see if it works. ‘She knew that the candy melted in her pocket.’ – ‘She knew the candy melted in her pocket.’ At other times the word which does as well.

Just: This word crept up everywhere in my writing. So ‘I put it near the top of this list just to remind myself not to use just so often.’ It would read better if I wrote, ‘I put it near the top of the list to remind myself not to use just so often.’ Many times the sentences are better without the word just or words like only or merely can be substituted.

Suddenly: In mysteries things happen fast and we tend to say things like, ‘Suddenly the car lurched backward,’ but it is more effective if we write ‘The car lurched backward.’

To The: Example – ‘The door to the office squeaked.’ Better- ‘The office door squeaked.’

Up & Down: These two words are often implied and are not necessary. ‘She stood’ instead of ‘She stood up.’ And ‘He sat’ instead of ‘He sat down.’

Began: ‘She picked up the pen and began to write’ is not as good as ‘She picked up the pen and wrote.’

Of the: ‘Most guys wore jeans to the party’ is better than ‘Most of the guys wore jeans to the party.’

To Be: ‘He needs to be scrubbing behind his ears’ –‘He needs to scrub behind his ears.’

Out: ‘She spread the cloth out on the picnic table’ – ‘She spread the cloth on the picnic table.’

I bet if you check your manuscript as you go, you’ll find many of these and other pet words you tend to use. The best writing tends to show up after rewriting and editing.



Thanks for your list. I find that as soon as I eliminate one overused word, I adopt another.

It's always helpful to know what to look out for!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great points, Lynette! I'll have to do a "find" on my WIP and see how many times these words turn up.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Michael said...

Most writers I see that come my way, new and old, tend to commit one major writing crime...they NEVER, and I mean NEVER proof their work or edit it to tighten it up.

I am suffering through a locally written book right now and am stunned that the writer is an Appie State grad and a teaches English at a local college.

Writers (pseudo or otherwise) -- wise up. Read your own stuff again and again until it's the absolute best you can put forth and keep your name on it.

An editor in NC