Posted at June 2, 2020

Writing Tips: The Overuse of Words pt. 1

Overused words in books are my biggest pet peeve as a writer.  There’s nothing worse than a main character “shuttering” at everything, or “gasping” all the time.  And I hate to say it, but writers, you do this too.

Until I interned with a literary agency, I had no idea how bad I was at reusing the same words or phrases.  The head agent pointed out, however, that it wasn’t just me, but all writers who use certain words that seem to creep into their novels.  They’re like weeds in a garden–easy to arrive, but difficult to remove.  How did they even get there?  How did they somehow take over your garden?

These are the weeds that you need to remove to keep your flowers from bogging down:

  • Feel
  • Thought/Wonder
  • Seem

These words are the exact definition of “telling” the action in your novel without “showing” it.

This word eliminates any description that could have taken place here.  While you write something like “I feel like the room is spinning,” you could say, “The walls spin around me, the floor becoming quick sand.  Before I know it, the ceiling is the floor, and the floor is the ceiling.”  Instead of simply stating that you character “feels” dizzy, go in depth about the detail of how it truly feels to be dizzy.

These two words work hand-in-hand.  “I think…”  “I wonder…” They need to be cut from your manuscript because writers use them like crazy.  These are the hard ones, so heads up.  When you write something like, “Walking into the crowd, I think I see Ashley, and the look on her face makes me wonder if she’s lost,” consider changing your sentence to something like, “Walking into the crowd, Ashley’s blonde hair pops out at me, and her drawn in features on her face makes me rush to her in case she’s lost.”  By taking away the “thought/wonder” parts, you’ve successfully “shown” the action without “telling” it.

Ah, yet another “tell.”  This word is lame, and it’s lazy, so don’t use it.  I know–trust me, I know–how easy it is to write about how “her face seemed sad, but her smile said otherwise,” because in real life, this is how we think.  This is how we sometimes talk.  But in writing, you can say so much more.  If you change that sentence to “Her face drooped with unmistakable gloom, but her smile said otherwise,” then you’ve just transformed that whole page.  In any situation where you write “seem,” try removing it and describing what it “seems” to be.  Then, you’ve got yourself a much better book in your hands.



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