Tips for Better Fiction Writing: “LOOK” and Other Crutch Words

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I’m writing a book series called Tips For Better Fiction Writing, in which I tackle all the rookie mistakes new writers make.

And hey, I made them, too.

Which is why I’m helping you not make them.

Until the next book in the series comes out, you’ll see these gems here on the blog.


This word should be on your crutch word list:


In a recent manuscript (not mine) “look” appeared 255 times. There were 3 instances in a span of 109 words in a single chapter – and the MS I edited last week had a similar frequency.

I notice this word – and others that we repeat a lot – because after a while they stick out.


Because we repeat them.

As a reader, you don’t really notice a word being repeated a lot. Yeah, in Dr. Seuss you do, or in the Biscuit books, but not in regular reading.

At least, you don’t think you do.

But often a reader gets to the end of a story, and they liked it, BUT…

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But it feels like it just wasn’t as polished as some other stuff they’ve read.

I don’t think most would even be able to articulate why they feel that way. After all, nobody is asking them.

Crutch words are words or phrases we use again and again in our writing, mainly because we are getting the idea out of our head and onto the page, which is good, but

  • repetition is close to dull, and

  • dull = un-immerses your reader from your story.


Dull destroys pace and gall the effort you put into making your story gripping. Stay away from dull and all its shady friends smoking cigarettes behind the dumpster at the 7-11.

Stay away from repetition, which means KNOW you have crutch words. Find them, list them, and be on the lookout for them. And advise your critique partners to help add to your list, too. We wanna know about these suckers and get them the hell out.

How many is too many?

Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it? You’ll have different words on your list than I have on mine, but LOOK is a common violator. WAS is another, but I don’t care about was. IF, THE and AND are gonna appear a lot and they probably need to. I mean, we’re writing in English. Certain words happen a lot.

It’s the words that shouldn’t happen a lot that matter.

The ones we’re over-using instead of really saying what we mean.


With look, shoot for 1 per 1000 words, but not 2 within a few hundred of each other, and be sure NOT to replace each LOOK with GLANCE. Create a list of synonyms, and replace look with them almost in rotation.

Look = glance, eyed, viewed, scanned, peered, observed*

(*observed gets kinda filtery)

Also avoid “gave him a look,” because it’s another occurrence of look and really it’s telly, so rewrite those gimmes.

Each LOOK replacement will have a better feel when you consider the sentence objectively, so use each accordingly.

For example:

  • I use peered when someone is being more sneaky or I’m wanting to add tension.
  • I use scanned when it’s a more platonic or scientific setting.

Then on about 1/3 try – try – to reword it so you aren’t using any. And good luck with that, but try.

You do this, on your next MS your fingers will react like they’re getting an electric shock when you type L-O-O

You can do this stuff.

A is for Action 12 FINALWanna get personalized tips like this for your story and take it to the next level? Check out my Private Critique Group.

What’s YOUR revision process like?

And the less your reader expects it, the more surprised they’ll be – and the more sudden your scene will read. So set it up that way. Let readers think one thing and do the other without warning. Don’t announce it with “suddenly.”

Get A Is For Action today for 99 cents, part of Dan Alatorre’s Tips For Better Fiction Writing series.

Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

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