Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Writer Wednesday: Go-To Words

Today I want to talk about go-to words. You know, those words we ALWAYS use in our manuscripts even though we know we shouldn't. When I'm editing for a client, I cut these words, change them out, or mark them to be changed by the author. The thing is, I use these words in my own writing.

I'm working on edits for my Into the Fire trilogy and my editor kindly pointed out that my characters LOVE to smile and shrug. Not together, obviously, but you get the point. When I did a search for these, I was blown away. I'm talking head to desk, wondering how book one was ever printed this way. I was embarrassed to be honest. The good thing is that I know this book is so much better now. The writing is tighter, there are added scenes, and the pace is faster.

I'm going to share some words you should look for in your own writing and then cut. Here it goes:

that (This is the word I cut the most for my editing clients.)
just (This word is a close second to "that" as far as what I cut most for clients.)
adverbs (Okay, it's not an exact word to look for, but you know what I'm talking about. Opt for specific verbs and ditch those adverbs.)
So (I'm very guilty of this one. Cut it.)
but (Nothing wrong with this word, but—see what I did there?—be mindful of how often you use the "He did this, but…" sentence structure.)
well (Another personal favorite)

Here are three others, I'll caution you about:
These are telling words. If you're using them, you are distancing your reader from the story. Let the reader experience these senses instead of being told about them.

*While this list is in the present tense, ALL tenses apply. ;)

Do you have any go-to words that aren't on my list? Feel free to share them in the comments.

**If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.


  1. I smiled when I read your post, and then shrugged. So what can I do that would make me feel really happily chirpy after, well, being caught red handed USING all of the above?

  2. I just took out a look last night...and replaced it w/turned...Lol! I use alot of these, and my last acts of editing are to go through looking for these little buggers. ;)

    1. It's amazing how many words get cut when you weed these out.

  3. Replies
    1. Yes, that's a great addition to the list. Thanks!

  4. This is a great list, Kelly. I think I use shrug, smile, and nod a lot. I'll have to be more careful about that! :)

  5. Little is addictive too. Breathing in its various forms is another crutch, but it's so dang expressive. We breathe the way we feel.

  6. Another one: seem

    A writer friend had this word sprinkled about at least twice per page. I was like 89 occurrences of "seem" is WAY too much!! lol

    How does something seem cluttered? It's either cluttered or it isn't. How about describe the room and let the reader decide if it's cluttered or not.

    1. Yikes! And yes, seem is definitely a word to watch for.

  7. I'm always cutting that and just. And really. Yes, seem, felt, and see. Thanks for the list.

  8. I try to edit out "though," "feel," "although," and "look." There are some other words that irk me when I notice I overuse them.

  9. "And" and "To" are also words we use too many times. I try never to use the same word more than once in a sentence but sometimes it's almost impossible!

  10. Thanks for the list. I'm jotting it down.

  11. I'm bad about "look." Mostly I just use it WAY too often. She looked down, he looked at her, she shot him a look, etc. Someone called me on it recently and now I'm noticing how often I do it!

    1. Yeah, I see that word overused all the time. You're not alone.

  12. "Just" and "even" are two of my biggest sins, along with "looked" and "back." My characters tend to "flinch," "recoil," and "widen their eyes." They are a twitchy lot, overall!

    1. LOL I don't know if I ever use flinch. Now I want to. ;)


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