How to Send Overused Words to the Graveyard

All writers subconsciously fall back on words that pop up with increased frequency in the paragraphs flowing from their minds. Getting rid of them can mean the difference between average story telling and a true page-turner. I’m not suggesting to get rid of every single one, only to reduce their numbers when they don’t fit.

My biggest offenders are often repeated on every page. Doing a search for them in Word brings each one glaring back at me. Here are five of my favorites and how I send them packing:

  1. JUST Here’s an example: Just ignore her the next time she calls you out. This one is simple, just delete, whoops… I mean delete the word and the meaning stays the same. Another option is to reorder the sentence, The next time she calls you out, ignore her.
  2. SEE/SAW Good writers do more “Show” than “Tell” and these two words can lead to more of the latter. Deletions cause too many gaps but you can replace each one with a description of what is being seen. ‘I saw the dog running up the hill’ can become ‘The dog jumped over logs and rocks as she sniffed her way closer to my side.’
  3. WAS is SAW spelled backwards and no less troublesome.  A passive ‘The man was laughing.’ can be changed to the active, ‘The man laughed.’
  4. THEN A story needs to move forward but if each event is preceded by ‘Then’ it will send your copy to the recycle pile. Then the girl walked into the kitchen and then she remembered she forgot her purse.  Dropping it works…The girl walked into the kitchen and remembered she forgot her purse. This could also give you an opportunity to make this sentence shine more. The girl dragged her tired body back to where the previous night’s cooking disaster took place. One look at the mess reminded her the purse she needed today had been drying out in the bathroom
  5. FELT/FEEL Another Tell versus Show meltdown.  I felt sad could become My head dropped knowing it would never be the same. Or…The emotions boiled inside me as the news of my father’s death reached my ears.

There are plenty more examples out there but these should send any writer on a mission to edit and improve the stories they tell. I hope my suggestions help.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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