Hello all! I hope you guys had a fabulous summer.
Since I was last around, things have been a bit busy. I launched an anthology in London (back in May), traveled to the West Coast to visit my brother, was named valedictorian for my master’s class and “had” to go back to England (oh darn), and started working with an agent on my manuscript. Very exciting stuff!
That last one? While you’re reading this, I’ll be frantically editing away to get a fully revised, 100% more awesome version of Illuminate over to said agent. And as I struggle to cut a full 30k from my story to bring it into reasonable parameters, one thing has become very clear to me:
I have a lot of crutch words.
What are crutch words? They’re the filler. The excess jam. The bloated brain. The wordy worms.
There are several fairly universal crutch words (I’m looking at you, “that”), but every writer has their own set of crutches. Heck, every story has its own set of crutches. So, what can a girl do?
Identify Your Crutch Words
I use two primary internet resources for this: word cloud generators (pictured above) and Word Frequency Counter. There will of course be some words you can ignore (the, he, she, [your MC’s name]—the word cloud generators will let you remove these from the count if you want). But if you scan through it, you will come across some interesting themes.
For instance, in my word cloud (which was for an older draft) the word “hand” is used more frequently than my antagonist’s name. “Hand” is definitely a crutch word for me. I love hands. I’m obsessed. It’s weird.
Write out a list of your crutch words, and maybe look at these resources for more ideas:
- Are These Filter Words Weakening Your Fiction?
- Polish Your Prose: An Editorial Cheat Sheet
- 25 Editing Tips for Tightening Your Copy
So you have your list. Now it’s time to start revising. You have a couple options for this:
- Print it out. When your writing is on paper, the flaws are revealed in ways that just don’t come across on the screen. To mix stuff up, try changing the line spacing or margins—this will force you to look at it in an even more different way. Keep your list handy and read with an eye for the crutch words.
- Use Word’s Replace function. Put your manuscript in Word and use Find+Replace. Put the same word into both Find and Replace, but change the formatting preferences in the Replace bar to select “highlight.” This will light your pages up like a Christmas tree or other similarly bright object.
- Listen to it. Read it out loud, or have a friend (or robot—robot friend?) read it to you. Again, keep that list handy and try to be aware of how much those words are popping up.
To clarify: Not all crutch words have to be entirely eliminated from your manuscript. I certainly am not going to cut or change every reference to hands in my WIP. But I do try to make sure I never repeat the same word within the same page (unless it is for intentional rhythm or mirroring) and that it is only repeated a few times in the same chapter.
You’ll have to trust your gut to feel out how much repetition is too much, and when the words that could enhance your story actually bog it down.
What are some of your crutch words? Do you have other methods for dealing with them? Share in the comments!