It was a busy holiday weekend, but here and there I managed to open up my main KINDRED file and do a bit of spit polish editing. One of the things I saved for last is something I think all writers should do at some point during the editing process, and that’s a search and replace for words we know we overuse, or those superfluous words like “really” and “just” and “very” that sneak their way into our manuscripts to water down our prose. I tend toward laziness; it’s so much easier to fall back on several comfortable, but imprecise, words rather than hunt for one this is vivid or unusual, or gives a more nuanced spin to whatever I’m trying to convey.
This is especially true when it comes to stage business, or character choreography, or whatever you want to call the process of moving characters physically through scenes. Here are a few of my overused (and lazy) words that I did search/replace for over the holiday weekend:
looked (he/she/I looked)
watched (he/she/I watched)
turned (he/she/I turned)
that (if the sentence reads clearly without it, I nix it)
out of (when “from” would work as well, although in half the cases “out of” stayed). This one I check for brevity’s sake, always on the look out for words to trim.
of the (this phrase generally means I’ve overwritten something. I’ve written “the X of the Y” instead of just “the Y” or “the X.” Sometimes I reworded it altogether with a stronger noun that needed no modifying)
saw (he/she/I saw): I often use this construct when it isn’t necessary. Example: “He saw the bird dive bomb the cat.” If we are in his POV, then of course “he” saw it. “The bird dive bombed the cat” can suffice. The instances when I chose to leave in the “saw” were mostly in Seona’s first person POV. In those cases it had to do with her voice. There’s a certain rhythm I try to create with Seona’s voice, and sometimes extra word padding contributes to that. For that reason I’ll include it, whereas I wouldn’t in Ian’s more succint voice.
In some cases, changing these words caused me to rewrite the sentence rather than simply replacing Word A for Word B. Invariably I ended with a stronger, and often shorter, sentence. I also recommend reading several paragraphs around the word you’ve replaced, before moving on, to be sure you haven’t unknowingly created an echo of that new word, used a few paragraphs upstream or down.
What words do you tend to overuse? Leave them in the comments section (and get them out of your system for the day!). Maybe you’ll mention one I haven’t consciously noticed in my own writing, or I’ve mentioned one for you.
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