You know, I never thought to ask if there was a better procedure for doing this than what I’m doing.
So I’ll ask!
When my critique partners got done with my story, they had flagged a lot of “crutch words” along the way. Those are words you accidentally overuse or stick in when you need something – and they start to stick out to readers. Repetition creates an aura of sameness, of boredom, which is NOT what you want in a story you’ve spent untold hours working on to be compelling and gripping! They gotta go! But how?
All I did was make a list of those crutch words as my CPs pointed them out and then, one by one, take a crutch word and do a search in the manuscript for them one at a time, replacing them as I went. The word smile, for example. I started on chapter 1, dropped “smile” into the search box, noticed that it popped up a hundred thousand times, swallowed hard at my incredible crutchiness that was even worse than I knew… and clicked on the first one. “She smiled” became “She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear.”
One down, 99,999 to go…
I approached each next one in the MS with a mind to keep some, and a list of replacements in my head for the others – and if I got bogged down, I had a page of synonyms ready. That’s what I do. Seems like a good plan.
And basically since there were usually no more than one smile per page, or, more often, one every three or four pages (most crutch words aren’t actually that prevalent throughout the whole MS; they appear in groups, it seems), I could leave in about 1/3 of the ones I’d already written and, using a rotation system, replace 2/3 with the next good synonym on the list. Aside from the fact that it’s time-consuming and reeeeeeally boring, it isn’t hard work.
But if you have seven crutch words you’re going to go through that manuscript seven times. Some crutches may appear 100 times, so maybe you’re replacing 50 or 60; some appear 1000 times – and then you still have a task in front of you for the word “was.”
(Was removal, or dewasification/dewasing of your MS, is to make it more active tense and reader friendly. Or to drive you freaking nutso. Because was appears a LOT no matter what you do. Until you spend A FEW DAYS removing a bunch of the 1,100 – no shit – appearances of WAS in your 100,000 word MS. Then, by sheer rote and possibly a nod to the Chinese water torture, you start to avoid that freaking word in all things, even Facebook chats and blog posts:
You’re more gentle than I expected. (See that? I almost said “was expecting.”) – actual Facebook chat dialog from an overwased writer.
If there is a better way to do it, I am all ears. Because my eyes have dried up and fallen out of my head and rolled away to a dusty corner of my office.
How do YOU eradicate your crutch words?
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great upcoming sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to check out his other works.