Ann and I are currently working on the last revision of A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH before sending the manuscript to our critique team to tear apart over the next few weeks. The manuscript was written earlier this year and we had the opportunity to put it aside for a few months to ‘age’. But it’s amazing what pops out at you when you suddenly have some perspective on your work. One of those things is the use of crutch words.
The most important aspect of writing a first draft is to get the words down. Whether you are a pantster or a plotter, you simply want to get the story sketched out, hitting all the plot points and emotional notes while still including the necessary character development. But, in doing so, often authors fall back on using familiar words or phrases—those infamous crutch words—to an unhealthy extent.
I remember when we first started revisions on DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT with our agent Nicole. There was a somewhat ridiculous amount of looking and glancing, accompanied by an awful lot of eyebrow movement. I think if I’d used the word ‘gaze’ or ‘that’ one more time, my word processor (and my editor!) might have gone on strike in protest. In an effort to write the story in my head, I’d fallen back on crutch words.
Now, this kind of writing is perfectly acceptable in a first draft. In fact, it’s a good thing if it helps you get the words down, but it simply can’t stay that way. You might not even see these repeated words and phrases because they seem so comfortable to you, but they’ll drive your readers insane.
The revision stage is the perfect place to weed out those repetitions and replace them with better and more varied descriptions. A good way to do this is to take advantage of Word’s ‘Reading Highlight’ option under the ‘Find’ feature. It really helps drive the point home when you see a swarm of highlighted words on the page. If you’re not sure what your crutch words are but know they’re there (and they almost always are), enlist the help of a crit partner to help you identify them. They also have the pesky habit of changing as your writing evolves. As soon as you beat a couple of them into submission, new ones pop up, so just because you’re on novel number six doesn’t mean you’re free of these irritating little gremlins.
To other authors, what are your crutch words? Have you found a way to keep them from creeping in, or do you just resign yourself to whacking them during the revision stage?
Now if I could only get my characters to stop striding everywhere they go… *eyeroll*
Photo credit: Tony Crider