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Monday 1 December 2014

Writing – self-edit – over-used words

I’m currently re-editing a novel that’s due to be published early next year.

The new version of Word makes this easier – and more alarming – than before.

Using the search facility, I can discover how many times I’ve used particular words. We all have words we tend to over-use, and it’s quite easy to gloss over their frequent usage in an entire piece of work. In my years as editor, I’ve encountered a number of common words and outlined some of these in my book Write a Western in 30 Days (p152).

Here is a list of words I’ve searched for and discovered that I’ve over-used. In many instances, the word probably can be dispensed with entirely; in other cases, it should be replaced; in some situations, it must stay to do the job intended.

Suddenly – this slips in so easily; all of a sudden, it's there.

Down – really, deep down, most instances of this can be excised; at least cut down on the use of this one.

Up – again, the same as ‘down’, often in the same paragraph… Look them up and you’ll be surprised…

Out – not often necessary, or use an alternative word or phrase; cut out as many as you can.

In – the same as ‘out’, the word sidles in without knowing…

Just – these just keep sneaking in, too, suddenly, it seems; most can be excised. Most often just used in speech – but don’t overdo that too.

Began to – this is passive; act now and use an active variant!

Grinned – you have to laugh at how often this occurs; excise, or find another mannerism.

Laughed – don’t grin and bear it, make sure it is appropriate; often the dialogue conveys the humour/laughter anyway.

Sighed – see my blog of 2 October 2013 to size up this one…
Chuckled – an alternative, but also overdone.
Smiled – often used as a speech attribution, as is ‘sighed’, ‘laughed’, ‘chuckled’ and ‘grinned’ – wrongly, since you can’t speak and make those facial actions at the same time; it’s shorthand for lazy writers, meaning ‘I wanted to say that he laughed,’ he said and smiled – not, ‘I wanted to say that he laughed,’ he smiled.
Shrugged – a useful gesture, but perhaps overdone; seek other gestures, perhaps?
Nodded – oh, yes, this crops up a lot, and I’ve been tempted to give the nod to some instances, but generally excise 50% - let the speech or mannerism convey the nod.
Shook – often hands are shaken (not stirred), but it can be other body parts; are they all necessary (the use of ‘shook’/’shake’, not the body parts)?

Snapped – another useful term, but have a care as its strength can be diminished if over-used.

Back – I keep coming back to this one; I see it in the same paragraph and repeated frequently on the same page. I have to be ruthless with this, and tend to cut back quite a few of them!
Good luck.
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Neil A. Waring said...

Suddenly and just seem to be the main culprits in much of my reading and editing. Good tips, and that is a good word tool all writers will find helpful.

nancy curteman said...

Thanks for a good list of "no no" words.

Nik Morton said...

Thanks for the feedback, Neil and Nancy! I read these out to today's writers' circle gathering and a couple of attendees detected some of these culprit words duplicated in their offerings!