You know, I never thought to ask…

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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.

41 thoughts on “You know, I never thought to ask…

  1. Oh just when I’m getting over my nightmares…. you go and bring this up!

    Yes, I went through this with LA2 and I made a list…. wait… I still have it…

    – Was
    – That
    – Were
    – Then
    – Very
    – Really
    – Looking
    – Much
    – Clearly

    I had others which appeared in clusters. You pulled me up on collected and organised, the bigger problem with the latter being the British spelling.

    Here’s what I did. I made a list of these words in my notebook, often as I was going through my critiques, then I sat and did a search for each one and wrote down how many I had of each. Collected for example, in the whole MS, I had 3 and I was like, wtf is Dan on about, then I discovered them all within a few paragraphs, so it felt overused, but wasn’t as much an issue as I thought.

    Looking, I had that 70 times which for 70,000 words is 0.1%, so I did as you said above and chopped it down to 49.

    Organise/d/r I cut from 14 to 3, then thought, what the hell and reduced it further to zero! Same with energise/d, recognise/d, advertise/d, apologise/d, emphasise/d. Across these Britishisms, I had 172 in my MS, and I cut it back to 4 surprise/d because I couldn’t find a suitable alternative after drilling my head into the concrete under my house!!!

    The stage when I did ‘was’ and ‘that’, I didn’t make notes, I just grabbed a knife and tried not to slit my throat as I chopped and chopped and chopped. You then have to be alert to prevent replacing one repetitive word for another.

    I’ll end with a little cluster for you, words that can be used in the same way but don’t look too pretty when clumped together:

    – really
    – very
    – so
    – seriously
    – totally
    – so much
    – a lot
    – much
    – extremely

    Did I say? great discussion topic!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It`s a hard fight, eradicating those damn crutch words, I know, I edit and I edit and I edit oh and then I edit again. Sorry Dan, I wish I did have a silver wand but……the faery has left the building with a headache.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I hang my head in shame! I’m 47,385 words into LA3 and I’ve just given myself a nervous breakdown for your benefit…. A little count of some annoying gremlins:

    Was – 593
    That – 426
    Looked – 65
    Felt – 66 (we know this is mostly a very bad word outside of dialogue)
    Lips – 78 (it’s romance, we need lips!)
    Probably – 23 (a very very bad word)
    Smile – 51 (can’t people be happy?)

    Very depressing! For the positive though, only 3 ‘clearly’ and only 47 —ised Britishisms!

    I best go and bang my head against a dictionary for an hour!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read some great advice on this recently, and now I feel bad that I can give proper credit. But here it is: Do a search and replace for each of your crutch words, not to change the words, but just to make them ALL CAPS. They’ll jump out at you on the page. and you can quickly see when you have, say, four smiles in the course of two paragraphs. Plus, now you only have to to do one edit run-through to get rid of all of your various crutch words It’s still a pain, but at least you’re editing all the way through in order, and not going back to the same scene or even paragraph seven different times, once for each crutch word.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I was giggling until I searched ‘So’ how that replicated it’s self I am unsure, Now I can see loads of different ones that I couldn’t see before. Just when I think everything is going dandy someone finds me another revision to do. But what a fool I would look if I hadn’t read your post. Thank you.
    P.S. anyone got Harry Potters number… Merlon I’m not agist. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Seconding R. Todd’s suggestion. Before my manuscript goes to the crit group or an editor, I read it top to bottom. Lot’s of stuff jumps out when your eyes have to slow down to read aloud.

    For the technically minded…I use a fairly inexpensive program to do a “report” on my manuscript before I send it off: RightWriter*. It disappeared off the market for a while (used to be by Que software – that’s the copy I still own.) It’s touted as the “intelligent” grammar checker, but it does more than that.

    Relevant to the conversation, one of the “reports” it spits out is a list of every word in your manuscript in alphabetical order…and the number of times it shows up in your manuscript.

    The key to using the grammar portion well is knowing when to IGNORE the grammar rules. (Characters should split infinitives, mix metaphors and talk in fragments, for example.)

    *No, they’re not paying me to endorse the program. 🙂


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