Thursday, July 6, 2017

That's Just Not Pretty

by Alan

Do you ever find yourself over-using certain words in a first draft? What do you do to avoid or correct that?

I finished a first draft not too long ago. In it, I used the word “that” 722 times. I also over used the words pretty, just, about, little, some, and chartreuse (by my reasoning, even once is too many times to use chartreuse).

I call these crutch words, and no matter how hard I try, they worm themselves into my initial drafts. Which, really, is okay with me. I’d rather write freely (and quickly), than always be self-editing. In the first drafts, I’m all about the speed and meeting my word quotas.

I use the first draft to get the plot ironed out, to get the characters and their actions described, and to get the settings set. As crazy as it sounds, I worry about the actual prose in later drafts. The words I use will probably change a few times before I’m finished polishing.

And when polishing time rolls around, I make liberal use of Word’s search function. I search on my crutch words and either eliminate the offending words altogether (pretty, some, and little are often used as weak modifiers) or change them to something more descriptive.

[By the way, in my above answer to this week’s question, I used the word “that” only once—when I called it out as a crutch word! (See? I’m learning!)]


Some BSP: Amazon has lowered the price of RUNNING FROM THE PAST to $.99 until July 11 (Kindle version). For those of you keeping score, that’s less than ONE DOLLAR!


Paul D. Marks said...

Alan, it's amazing how many "crutch" words we use. And it's great to be able to search them on the computer so we can lessen the amount.

Tonette Joyce said...

Where to draw the line? I have proof- and beta-read many works and advise writers not to over-use the same words, however, I have also know writers who empty their thesauruses in fear of redundancy.That type or work is even more annoying to read.
I have been grappling with a work of my own that contains a great deal of dialogue. I am encountering two opposing schools of thought: use any words other than "said"/ and simply use "said" since it doesn't register with the reader. My beta-reader and I are at odds over it as I write this.(I used "said" in most instances.)
May I ask your advice?

RM Greenaway said...

I have trouble with "looked". People are always looking at things, or each other.
To the question above, I prefer "said" to almost any alternative. I think it's true that "said" doesn't register. But if in doubt, reading your work aloud or playing back using the computer is helpful catching awkward repeats, or those terribly overused crutch words like "that" and "chartreuse".

Grace Topping said...

But I love the word 'that'. I find myself doing the same thing--over using the same words. Can you use the word 'terrific' too many times?

Alan Orloff said...

Paul - Without a computer, we'd all just be typists.

Tonette - I'm of the school, you can't go wrong with "said." Of course, my advice would be to try to eliminate dialogue tags wherever you can (perhaps use action beats instead).

RM - Yes, reading aloud is a great way to spot those overused words. And if I ever have trouble sleeping, I just read some of my own work aloud. Works every time.

Grace - A terrificly terrific comment, terrificously!