Search and Destroy


…words that are killing your writing.  Somehow, certain words creep up in our writing while hammering out a first draft.  These words are poison, and during subsequent edits, an author should strive above all else to remove them from prose.  You won’t get every single one, but realize that if you see these words, typically your sentences can be made stronger by eliminating them.

1. Had

I put this one first on the list because it’s my biggest crutch.  ex.  “Mike had prepared for the worst, or so he thought.”  This is a sentence that has a story to tell.  Elimination of the word ‘had’ works on its own.  “Mike prepared for the worst, or so he thought.”  If we eliminate the obvious cli’che and elaborate on what preparation means, then it can be dressed up further.

2. Was

Same thing here.  ‘Was’ tends to be followed by filter words, too.  It’s like a gravitational pit that pulls telly writing everywhere around it.  This word represents maelstroms in the ocean that is your novel.  Eliminate at all costs before shipping it off to an agent, or have sentences that read like “Mike was about ready to start…” <-horrible.  Which brings up the next one.

3. ‘About’, ‘ready’, ‘thinking about’

Your MC should not prepare for anything.  He/she should act.  If he/she is thinking about something, show it by having them act on it.  Dialogue makes a useful crutch.  Telling me that it’s on his/her mind doesn’t.  Replace “Sara considered making some coffee.” with “Sara rifled through the coffee filters, glanced at the bag of dark roast, then the coffee pot.  She bit her lip, evaluated her energy level, and filled the pot with water.”  Something like that.

4. Just

“The panel just exploded in a shower of sparks.”  “The panel exploded in a shower of sparks.”  Typically, you can <just> remove this one.  It <just> isn’t necessary.  I <just> can’t understand why it shows up in the first place.

5. That

This is a delicate issue.  Sometimes you need the word ‘that.’  Generally you don’t.  Look at every sentence involving ‘that.’  Decide if you absolutely need it.  If not, cut it.  “The tree limb that hung above the driveway constantly scraped car tops and caused the loss of friends.”  Remove ‘that’ from there.

6. Crutch Words

Very, so, really, etc.  Anything that modifies an adjective is a crutch that people use to emphasize the fact that they’ve chosen the wrong adjective.  “It was so big.”  Consider “It was enourmous,” “It was a boheamouth,” “It filled the room/box/backseat.”  Modifiers are a signal that it’s time to pull out the thesaurus and find another word.

The hard part:

If you find a bunch of these in your MS, don’t worry.  We all do it.  We all remind each other not to do it.  We all do it again.  You can’t write your best prose every single day, specially when you are pushing yourself to 2000 or more words per day, or struggling to get 500 down because of a queer bit of plot to work through and no sleep the previous night.  While it’s good to focus on these ideas while you are drafting, don’t get hung up on them.  Write your story.  Killing crutch words and improving sentences is the final polish, or meringue if you will.  Definitely do a search and destroy before sending that MS to the agency squirrels, though, and absolutely do NOT let them creep into your query. (Yea, I said the Q word)  Actually, in writing this post I realize how much I need to commit to my own advice.

What are some of the words that you love to hate?  Leave them in a comment.

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Author: spottedgeckgo

Writer. Making my living on my pen, and working to turn a raw chunk of land into a future homestead.