Monday, November 18, 2013

Find Your Crutch Words! And Then Stop Leaning on Them

When I’m getting close to finishing a draft of a manuscript, I like to paste my draft into one of those word cloud sites. It’s a fantastic way to see which words you’re using the most.

Minus character names, here’s what my WIP looks like right now! I made it on TagCrowd, which lets you filter out certain words and pick how many words to display. 

This is a first draft, so it’s pretty clear that I have a lot of thinking and feeling, which are signs I’m probably telling too much instead of showing. The breakdown makes it so easy for you to control- or command-F in Word to find all these words, and then figure out a way to get rid of some of them! 

Here are some of the words I see a lot, divided into categories.

The repeat offenders

These are the words that seem to pop up over and over and over. Some can be indicators that you’re telling too much instead of showing – “I look,” “I think” – or simply overusing the word “just.” If you are a writer and happen to not be guilty of this, I bow down to you.

1. just
2. look, stare, watch, see
3. think/thought
4. feel
5. even
6. start
7. really/very
8. realize
9. like/love
10. smile/laugh

The body parts

I searched the word “hand” in a manuscript once and found 200 instances of it. That was nearly every page. After I stopped panicking, I realized there were so many ways to get rid of it. I didn’t have to say “my hand reaches for door” each time someone entered a scene. Also, look out for your poor characters. Don't hurt their shoulders by having them shrug too much!

1. hand/hands
2. eye/eyes
3. lips/mouth
4. breathe
5. cheeks
6. head
7. face
8. shrug
9. nod/shake
10. voice

The sneaky ones

Once I started seeing these in my own writing, I found them in some of my critique partners', too. Characters opening too many doors? Plot points or emotions happening too suddenly? Too much kissing? (I know, not possible, right?)

1. door 
2. room
3. when
4. second/moment
5. word/words
6. silent/silence/quiet
7. “I don’t know”/”I’m not sure”
8. sudden/suddenly
9. well – I tend to overuse this in dialogue, especially.
10. kiss – it almost pains me to put this on the list because I adore writing kissing scenes, but I know I overuse it!

What crutch words do you rely on? How do you go about replacing them in your writing?


  1. This is SO helpful, thanks Rachel! I'm very interested to try this and see what I find. I bet my word cloud will show lots of shrugging too! :-) And for some reason: Well, So, and Just. At least those are easy ones to cut!

  2. I've used word clouds before but never thought of them as a way catch repeat offenses in my drafts. Great tip!!!

  3. Large / massive / enormous

    Smile / grin always kill me.

  4. I can't wait to try this and discover my crutch words! My characters smile, grin, and shrug way too much!! :) Thanks for sharing!!

  5. OMG -- I LOVED this, Rachel. The ever dreaded looked showed up. GRRRRR. Here are my other biggest offenders: eyes, face, arm, think, and turned. Dang -- everyone is ALWAYS looking and turning in my manuscripts.

  6. Bookmarking this. Because I always forget and really ought to remember to search for this stuff. ;-)

    *raises hand*
    A victim of too much kissing here. :P