Monday, August 19, 2013

The Ten Most Overused Words in Fiction

Every writer has his own list of favorite words. You know what I'm talking about. They're the ones you tend to rely on a little too heavily in your writing, without realizing it. Then your scene comes back from your critique partner all marked up in red, and you realize you've been a little lazy in your writing. 

Here's my personal list of my top 10 Most Overused Words, plus 1:

1. Expression- "She wore a (insert adjective of choice) expression on her face." I don't know about you, but I feel lazy when I resort to this. How about getting a little creative and showing rather than telling? Your readers will thank you for keeping them engaged. 

2. Eye (eyed, eyeing)- I need your help on this one. Does it bother you when a character's eyes land on something, or follow someone across a room? Does it conjure up pictures of eyeballs literally popping out of their sockets, or is this an acceptable alternative to the oft-used "gaze"? Either way, don't let the eyes have it to excess in your writing. 

3. Face- As in "he faced her", "she turned to face him". 

4. Feel/felt- Definitely passive. Not a problem every now and then, but a little goes a long way.

5. Gaze/gazed- Wouldn't you think that with all the looking around we do, there would be more decent synonyms for it? 

6. Glanced- Same as the problem we have with #5, only quicker.

7. Pull- Until I started writing seriously, I had no idea how many things could be pulled. "She pulled her gaze."  "He pulled the door." "They pulled a fast one." 

8. Regard/regarded- This is one that's easy to overuse in your attempt to avoid "look" or "gaze". "She regarded him warily." Not a problem every now and then.

9. That-You will find, when you start paying attention to this word, that about half of these are probably not needed. Your writing will be cleaner after snipping some of your 'thats'. 

10. Turned- Sometimes my characters do so much turning, it makes me downright dizzy.

11. (Bonus Word) Was- Passive and boring. It's fine at times, but you would do well to tighten up your writing with a was-ectomy. 

Click here to check out ProWritingAid, a really nifty FREE tool that analyzes, among other things, overused words in your writing. I just discovered it, and considering my own reliance on this list of repeat offenders, I think I'm going to use it repeatedly. 

As a writer or a reader, what are your favorite overused words?
~~~~~
LESLEY ANN MCDANIEL writes romance, romantic suspense, and young adult fiction. Her first two books “Lights, Cowboy, Action”, and “Saving Grace” are available at her website www.lesleyannmcdaniel.com or on Amazon http://amzn.to/1a2Rlnf.


Cover by Lynnette Bonner, IndyCoverDesign






Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

31 comments:

  1. I find that my characters "tense" and "exchange glances" far too often!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Tense"...hey, there's one I don't use very often. Thanks!

      Delete
  2. Nice list. I dislike the gazed/glanced/turned thing and try to use it as little as possible. You're right about the eye thing. That drives me nuts...she rolled her eyes...really? Right across the floor. :-) He caught her eye...why did she throw it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That makes me laugh, Jean. I wasn't sensitive to that until a gal in my crit group pointed it out. I don't mind the "eye" action so much, but I long for more alternatives. Maybe we need to start inventing words so we have more to play with. Hey, that's what Shakespeare did.

      Delete
  3. Forgot to add my favorite overused words...

    Just is one that used to get me. And then there is walked. We walk everywhere...or stroll, or saunter, or stride...etc. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I catch an awful lot of "justs" in my editing too. And finding just the right synonym for "walk" can be critically important. Sure, sometimes a character just walks, but sometimes the manner in which he does it says a lot about his character and his current emotional state. Now I think I'll dash over to the counter to get another cup of coffee.

      Delete
  4. Terrific post, Lesley. Only thing I hope is, when writer's do their "was-ectomies," they're careful not to mess up the past continuous verb tense that requires "was"; "he was sitting" means he'd been sitting for quite a while. "He sat" means he'd just taken a seat. Sometimes the difference increases clarity.

    Thanks for contributing!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, I've had lots of discussions about "was" and "that". People black and white rules, but grammar is full of those subtle shades of grey. Thanks for pointing that out, Linda.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was supposed to say "people LOVE black and white rules". My editor is still sleeping :)

      Delete
  6. Yes, you can overuse these words, but in a full-length novel, authors can also make the read too busy with too much attempted Showing. There are many ways to show how people act/react/internalize but not so many ways to describe one person looking at another. Ogle, leer, glance, check out, view, stare, glare, focus, blink, peer, peek... I'm a bit frustrated as you can tell, as I'm nearing the end of a long novel with a lot of dialog and non-verbal communication making up a big role. You write those terms over and over and you feel like you're one huge bore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't that the truth. We do read our own work differently than the reader will, and certain words will be invisible to them. This is one reason why trusted critique partners and beta readers are invaluable. They can tell you if overused words distracted them from the story or if you're right on track. Best to you as you finish your novel, Lisa!

      Delete
    2. I find myself agreeing with you so often, Lisa. It's important to have a sense of pacing as you write. Each sentence (and even each word) has a cost in terms of time spent reading it but also pays by propelling the story forward. In this sense, writing comes down to budgeting cost against income. Another element of pacing is expressing an idea relative to its importance to the scene and to the story as a whole.

      Delete
  7. One if mine is "toward". Glad to see I'm not alone if my laziness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love "toward". I love it so much, I use it whenever possible. Then go back and cut half of them.

      Delete
  8. I'm a culprit when it comes to "that." And thanks to a critique partner, I now avoid things like "her eyes met his." But I sure do get tired of "gaze." You're right, there should be more ways to describe how we look at things. Good list of alternatives, Lisa, but yeah, they do wear thin after awhile. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not saying you do this, Lynnette, but one of the things I learned from edits is to avoid having my characters look at one another so much. That's helped me reach for more variety in describing action. One of the things you do well in your writing is using small mannerisms to increase the depth of your characterizations. Of course, when I adopted this method to a greater degree than usual, I got dinged for it in edits. We should use all things in moderation, but this is one tool for avoiding the eye thing. Maybe your crit partner visualizes as she reads, as I do. ;)

      Delete
  9. Ack! Blogger ate my comment! Argh! I won't type the whole thing again, but I agree and like Lisa's list of alternative ways to "look" at things, but they do grow thin after awhile. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Good advice. Add to this list--got/get. He started/began. I could go on and on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Started"...that's a big one for me too. Sometimes it's appropriate, but I usually chop it out.

      Delete
  11. Great post! I'd like to see "got, went, came, took, put, a lot," thrown out the window.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If we throw them out, then we can bring them back fresh!

      Delete
  12. I've taken to copying my comment before I hit publish. That way I don't have retype it. ;)

    This is the 3rd time I tried to post this.

    ReplyDelete
  13. That is a big one for me. Most of the time it can be totally eliminated with no other edit needed to fix the sentence.

    I was editing yesterday and had a lot of trouble with the word look. The characters were looking at something and each other because of the unusual circumstance. Gazed, glanced, looked, saw all made it in. More colorful words just wouldn't fit. Thesaurus.com... It's a life saver.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I keep hoping Thesaurus.com will unearth some new ones for "look".

      I agree about "that", although you have to be careful. It's tempting to remove them all, but they're sometimes necessary for the flow and logic of the sentence.

      Delete
  14. I find people turn a lot in my works. I recently read back over a piece I wrote several years ago and people were leaping every where, leaping up, leaping to attention, leaping to action, etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I use so many "turns", I should "turn" some of them into "leaps".

      Delete
  15. I put a chapter through wordcounter.com - and discovered how often I used variations of 'thing' - something, anything, nothing.
    'Gazed' and 'glanced' used to be my repeats in an effort to avoid 'looked', but maybe it's time to go back to the basic words (in the same way as we're now told to use 'said', rather than a plethora of synonyms)

    ReplyDelete
  16. So what's a way around "looks", "glances," or "stares," especially if you're trying to denote a dumbfounded expression where someone really does stare at you for a long time, or if someone steals a glance at someone as if to gauge their reaction? I have a lot of these and know that they're crutches, but I'm at a loss for a replacement...

    ReplyDelete
  17. "Gaze" and "gazes" is a huge hang up for me. My characters do a lot of moving about, looking at things, and thinking. Somehow, I end up with believable and engaging characters, but struggle with all the "gaze"s. Plus, I have read twice today that you don't want too much body language. Hmm... What is the reasoning behind that?

    I think, before I publish next time, I'll run the novel through some sort of word-cloud-generator. They have to have one of those for free online, right?

    ReplyDelete
  18. My was-ectomy is coming along fine.

    ReplyDelete