Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crutch Words

Two great blog posts showed up in my google reader today, Scott Westerfeld's on Word Clouds and one on words that tell instead of show over at The Other Side of the Story. These both touch on a topic that has been casting its shadow over my mind lately: the overuse and abuse of crutch words.

I have them. I know I have them, both the kind that go completely unnoticed by me and the kind that even as I'm writing the word I think “I sure have been typing this a lot.” Some of the known crutches I'm trying to eradicate are:

Just. Everyone is always “just” doing something. “She just wondered...” “If he could just go...” “I should just ask...”

But note to self: unless there's some justice going on, this is a four-letter word I could probably forgo.

Gestures. Particularly those having to do with the eyes. Though eyes may be the windows to the soul, describing the windows doesn't always say enough about the building. My personal vices: “look,” “gaze,” “stare,” and “focus.”

But other common gestures crop up as well. My characters give out a lot of shrugs and smiles. But do I really want them to bounce between nonchalant and happy all the time? Surely human expression covers a far greater range of emotion.

Seemed. This one was recently pointed out to me in a critique of chapter one of the new novel. It's a guilt-laden word, and I knew I was using it, but I didn't realize how much. Oops!

Good thing the first draft doesn't have to be perfect. Three cheers for the power of revision!


  1. Oh I'm guilty of all those--especially the first draft! Seem is such a big one cuz when writing in first person, you can't say you know someone's feelings. That's what makes us step up a notch and "show" the situation, rather than telling it thru "Seem."

  2. I am somewhat reluctant to put my own draft to this test just yet. I think I'll wait until I'm happy with the bulk of the content, and ready to do the line-by-line edit (i.e. until my third draft :-)

  3. Right. Though if it helps, I didn't notice any overused crutch words, at least for part one. It's getting to be pretty smooth!

  4. It seems I am obliquely mentioned in this blog :)

  5. Indeed :) Shall I edit you in expressly?

  6. At one point I had made this list of words to watch out for:

  7. Yep, good ol' just. I find myself using it a lot as well. At least I've gotten to the point where I catch myself mid-type of it at least half of the time. ;) Gestures are tough. You have to find the balance between not being repetitive and not making the gesture so "unique" that it pops the reader out of the story.

    Glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles with repetition. :)

  8. My characters shift their weight a lot and lean against doorframes. I swear, I don't even know why!

  9. Marshall - A list like that is a bit like a door to the psyche. Very interesting to see the things that people fall back on.

    Kendra - And "just" is such a funny word, too. In a lot of ways it's a filler word, only we usually filter those kinds of words in writing fairly easily. It slips through unnoticed so often.

    Amie - I guess you want them all to be comfortable! Besides, the way you lean says a lot (according to While You Were Sleeping... don't know if you ever saw it).

  10. I've found that a lot lately in my own writing, too. Certain words and gestures that keep popping up and even my trusty old thesaurus can't help sometimes. I seem to use smile and laugh a lot, but in my current project, a couple of the characters are happy people, they do smile and laugh a lot, so what do I do? Assume people know this, find a bunch of different ways to SAY they're smiling or laughing? It can be so frustrating! lol

  11. Yeah, that's a good question. Certain characters do have habitual gestures. Some of mine have a familiar head tilt, or a quirk in their smile. But sometimes I have trouble knowing how much is too much. Finding balance is a constant tweaking game.

    By the way, welcome to the blog!