Get Off Your Crutches! 3 Simple Steps To Eliminate Crutch Words In Your Stories

crutches
I have no idea who this is, she just came up first when I Googled “crutches.” If she is a mass murderer, let me know.

I was updating a story chapter with the critiques from my critique circle and one author friend mentioned I used the word “look” too often.

She looked up at me.

I looked around.

Stuff like that.

I did it enough that she noticed it, so I scanned the 3500 word chapter and saw “look” 17 times!

That’s… kind of a lot.

I scrolled through, looking (see?) to take my LOOK usage down to about six or 8, or about 2 per thousand words, just so it wouldn’t be obvious to readers that I was overusing the word. As I replaced LOOK, I needed synonyms. No problem, I know lots of words. Sure I do. Try thinking up 17 synonyms for LOOK without Googling “synonyms for look” because if you replace all the “look”s with “saw,” you have the same problem.

Look! Look! Look!
Look! Look! Look!

Oh, and I was overusing LOOK in EVERY EFFING CHAPTER. Also WENT.

Greaaaaat.

I’m 100,000 words in and most of them are LOOK and WENT. Guess what I’ll be doing Sunday.

Anyway, after a while I thought I should just create a list of LOOK synonyms, write my chapter however I want, and then go replacing LOOK with the next synonym on my list, crossing them off as I go. I know, it sounds terrible but hear me out. I also realized that as I was doing the replacing exercise, I was being very choosy and learning better phrases that made my writing smother, and I probably won’t be so quick to use LOOK in future stories.

You could call it a win-win but really it was more of a oops-correct-learn.

Here’s a tip, since you read this far. You can drop your manuscript into a free editing software program that will scan it and tell you what words you’re over-using, and which are too passive, etc. (I’d tell you the name but they aren’t paying me to advertise their product here so screw ‘em. Do a quick search and you’ll find it. OR ONE OF THEIR COMPETITORS – ARE YOU LISTENING, EDITING SOFTWARE GUYS??? I take checks, by the way. Call me.)

WHY would you want a soul crushing machine to possibly take the life and voice out of your manuscript?

You don’t. But you don’t wanna have readers saying, hey, here’s a new drinking game called what’s the overused word?  

Then what hope is there fr the rest of us???
Visual representation of my friend

And since a LOT of traditional publishing houses use software like that (talk about soul crushing. I have a friend being driven absolutely insane by a trad publisher {also known as TP, like Toilet Paper. Yeah, I said it} over word use issues right now. She’s convinced they’re just running it through the software and sending it back with the note “fix it” – but more on that madness another time).

IF you use such software, you’ll be one step ahead of the game when your MS hits their door step. That’s not a bad thing. It’s like making sure there are no typos on your resume. It’s the basics. Don’t get screened out in the first round.

I do use WENT a lot...
I do use WENT a lot…

I’m not saying you should let it drive the passive word “was” out of your MS (see the upcoming story/blog/book “The Death Of WAS: my two year and counting battle with a traditional publishing house to get my f**king book out”- not by me, by that friend), I’m saying LEARN what your crutch words are. Know you have them. The program can do that for you, and maybe some other things. In this story, LOOK and WENT were my crutch words, things I said when I couldn’t think of something better. Dropping my chapter into a screening program first would have caught that, and let me potentially fix it, allowing that crit’s reading experience to be more pleasant and let her focus on where I want her focused: my story.

(Find out the benefits of a critique group. HERE)

Well, maybe that last one...
I can do that.

Here’s another tip. (Wait, another one? Where was the first one? Two paragraphs up! Pay attention!) If you drop your MS into a program and see your crutch words, you’ll become aware of them just like you became aware of dialog tags and speechifying and run on sentences and everything else you became aware of as a writer. You’ll learn to avoid using them, building bigger writer muscles, and becoming a better writer. (See my upcoming book “Write Better Stories” – that one will be by me, but if you read this blog all the time you won’t need it.)

  1. Make a list of your crutch words as you become aware of them and then just do a search on your chapter/story for each one. Simple and effective. (Actually, number 1 was the prior paragraph, about using that software to help find your crutch words. The people who skimmed down to this list will miss that. Now they have to go back. Busted.)
  1. Make a separate document with just your crutch words in it, and copy-paste it onto the bottom of every new chapter you start. When you are finished writing the chapter, there they are, reminding you to quickly search for them and replace them with something better.
  1. Have a list of replacements for each crutch word. Use it.

Before you know it, you’ll have a new habit – writing without using the crutch words!

Congratulations on your improved writer abilities.
Congratulations on your improved writer abilities.

There are few things sweeter than having a respected author friend pick up your story and tell you how much your writing has improved.

It does not mean your prior stuff sucked.

It means you’re getting there.

So? What are YOUR crutch words?

Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Send it as a comment to any post or hit the Contact Me button and, you know, contact me. I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends, too.)

FOLLOW ME! I’m this helpful and funny all the time. Probably. Don’t miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you may actually need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE/FOLLOW TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and if you send me your email through the Contact Me button I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.

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This is my branding picture, Jenny.
This is my branding picture, Jenny.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.

5 thoughts on “Get Off Your Crutches! 3 Simple Steps To Eliminate Crutch Words In Your Stories

  1. Great post!
    Look is a tricky one to avoid, especially in first person storytelling.
    I appreciated the bits you included about your friend’s battle with traditional publishing. I’ll definitely be looking forward to that segment.
    Looking. See? Its got me too!

    Like

  2. My overused words tend to change from chapter to chapter. Maybe it depends on what’s happening in the scene, or it could just be my mood that day. However, “just” is a frequent offender, and it’s “just” a filler word to boot. A double offense!

    I use an online editing program too, and they are great for pointing some of the basic mistakes we writers tend to make. The one I use also tells you how many occurrences of those pesky overused words are considered acceptable, which is helpful–not sure if they all do that.

    Liked by 1 person

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