For those who don’t know, the term ‘crutch word’ generally applies to words or phrases we use to give ourselves time to think or to emphasize a statement. Common crutch words include ‘really’, ‘I mean’, and (*shudder*) ‘I’m not gonna lie’, all of which add little or nothing to the sentence and some of which actually obscure the sentence’s meaning when the grammar is picked apart.
In writing, crutch words can be a little more varied; in fact, they’re often specific to a given writer.
Think about it: do you have any words or phrases you overuse?
I’m not talking ‘a’ and ‘I’ here, although those could be the subject of another blog post. I’m referring to things like characters shrugging whenever you’re struggling to express their lack of interest in or knowledge of a subjects. I mean your MC quirking her lips or his eyebrows so often that the reader starts to skim over the paragraph whenever those words pop up.
That’s not something you want to happen.
So how do you deal with crutch words?
First, you need to identify yours.
That may be more difficult than you think – if you’ve been working very closely on a project for a long time, you may be so familiar with it that you unconsciously skip over chunks because you already know what to expect. Stepping away for a little while, having someone else read it, reading aloud, or reading in a different format (e.g., on your e-reader as opposed to your laptop) may help.
I always make a point of jotting down phrases I know I’m repeating too often, whether I recognize them as I’m writing or during a reread. It’s not always immediately obvious to me how I can change them or which I can cut, so making a note of them so that I can go back and fix them when inspiration strikes is important. My crutch phrases tend to be voice-related and are generally most frequently repeated in the early part of a first draft, so sometimes just rereading the beginning several times is enough to figure out what I need to be on the lookout for.
Once you’ve identified your crutch words, crush ’em!
In order to do that, you need to figure out if they’re necessary.
Sometimes the answer is yes, as when they’re vital parts of sentences (e.g., verb phrases, as opposed to ‘literally’). If that’s the case, you probably want to start working out some alternatives. Obviously you shouldn’t be replacing all instances of your crutch phrase with the exact same new phrase, so you want to have multiple options. Also, remember that you don’t need to replace EVERY instance!
If the answer is no, cut them out. Extraneous words are not a good thing in fiction (or writing in general)!
What are your crutch words? How do you keep them from sneaking into your writing?