Tag Archives: overused words

No, I am not crazy. I’m just really, really anal.

Last week I posted an article about word clouds and how you can use them to spot overused words.

One of the comments, from a dear friend and fantastic author, was this:

Think GirlOk, 300 – 400 times out of 80,000+ words? That’s like what, .005% of your words are the same? seriously woman? You crack me up. 

It got me thinking. “Am I crazy?”

Well yes. Just ask my kids.

But also, no.

I don’t look at 400 occurrences as .005% of the words being the same. My mind calculates the problem as “that word appears at least once a page”.

But, you might say, the words won’t be on EVERY page.  Yes. This is true. However, that means if I skip one page, there might be a page somewhere that has the overused word twice in it. Even worse if there are places where the word might appear more than twice on a page.

And in my worst nightmares, something like this happens. This is an actual screenshot of a page in on of my manuscripts, pre-editing.

1 book page

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Here is the thing: Repetitive use of a word stands out to the reader. Especially when the words appear close together.

As a rule, I try not to use a word more than once every ten pages.

Say_What

Well, that’s what I shoot for. It doesn’t always happen. If I can’t do ten pages (and I try very hard to hit this mark) I try to not repeat in less than five pages.

On rare occasion, I do go less.  But 5-10 pages is what I shoot for.

Is it crazy?

It can take me a week to get rid of a very frequently used word. Sometimes when I’m doing this kind of edit I want to give up and not care… but the end product is unbelievably worth it. I find myself rethinking paragraphs. I find new and interesting ways to describe things. Being this detail oriented takes my writing to a whole new level.

Crazy? Yes.

But for me, it’s a good kind of crazy.cropped-fire-banner-final2.png

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Finding the helpfulness in fun things. AKA: Fun and easy ways to improve your writing

About four years ago I posted about a cool website called Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) that will make a cloud of words from the most used words in your manuscript.

The words that you’ve used the most (AKA the words you may be overusing) will appear the biggest.

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I don’t know what made me think of this suddenly, but I decided to drop the novel I am currently editing with my Month9Book editor into the program.

This is what spit out.

ASHES Wordle2

 

I guess I am not alone in struggling with overused words. I think everyone does to some extent. But I found this very enlightening.

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The largest word is the word that appears the most frequently in the novel.
“David” was not a surprise. The novel is in first person, and Jess spends most of the novel with David.

Runners up

The runners up, though, are cause for concern.  “Eyes” “Like” “Back” and “Dad” all appear equally high, tying for the number two position.

I used search and replace to see how frequently they appeared.

Yikes!

“Eyes=322” “Like=356”

“Back=406” and “Dad=390”

“Dad”, like “David”, is probably not a concern, but 300-400 instances of Eyes, Like, and Back certainly are a concern. “Pulled” and “Just” are pretty high up there as well. I will definitely be looking at those, too.

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While word clouds are, for the most part, just fun, you can also use them to point out stuff like this.

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I’d missed this during my own editing before turning in the manuscript. “Back” wasn’t even on my radar screen.

It is now.

Try dropping your current WIP into a word cloud generator. You might be surprised what you find.

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Longest. Edit. Ever. The tediousness of overused words.

I usually edit out overused words last, but since a few beta readers pointed some out… I started fixing, and then the overused words snowballed.

I always have overused words. I think all authors do… but the quantity of words, sometimes appearing five times on the same page, astounded me.

Was it the speed I was writing? The lack of read-throughs before going to beta? (I usually read my manuscript five to ten times before going to beta)

I’m not sure, but I’m definitely not happy. What a terrible, tedious week.

Repeated words might not seem like a big deal, but they ruin the flow of a novel. They stand out, and can pull the reader from your story and remind them they are “only reading”.

Shame on me

That is NOT what I ever want to do to my readers. It is my job to help them escape for a little while. If they are reminded it is “just a book” then shame on me.

That’s why I took an entire week to tackle this before submitting to my editor. The only problem is that another beta pointed out a portion that would be more intense if I made one small point in the story a touch harder on my characters… and I agree.

So that leaves me with two weeks left to do another developmental edit/rewrite on the beginning of the story, and finish the re-write of the ending that I inadvertently started while getting rid of the repeated words in the last two paragraphs. PLUS do a complete final read-through start to finish.

Two weeks until the deadline?

Arghhh! PictureNo, this is not where I would like to be so close to the novel being due… Especially since ASHES IN THE SKY went up on Goodreads this weekend, and  I was supposed to start EMBERS IN THE SEA last Wednesday.

Tons, tons, tons of pressure… But I WILL get this manuscript in on time.

And I will try my best NOT to make sleep optional.

What words have you seen overused in novels?

Editing Under Pressure. Yes, It can be done #2

I am knee deep in the content edits for my new novel FIRE IN THE WOODS. The turn-around on the editing is KILLER.

So far, I’ve done okay. Easy changes to make the plot-lines flow more smoothly.

Then I got to the hard stuff.

The editor mentioned three words she felt were over used. So I went back and revised them to a minimum.  However, in doing this, I made notes of what I changed those words to in order to make sure I did not overuse these new words as well.

Ugh.

This is when the editing became a nightmare.  Each overused word I found, I changed. If it was a new word, I added it to the list to check later.

In the end, I had a list of 94 words to check. Each time I made a change, if it was a new word, I added it to the list. My goal was to use the words no more than once every twenty pages. Now, I have to admit they got a little closer than that at the end. There are just so many ways to explode something. But this process was long and tedious for me.

This led to long nights and a weekend behind the computer.

Okay, maybe I did NOT need to do this now. This kind of thing is normally not part of the content edit, but now that I saw the problem, I could not send it back until it was fixed. The perfectionist in me just wouldn’t allow it.

Seriously___Come_on..._Seriously___00000

I mean seriously: Do characters have to shake their heads/hands/or other extremities 94 times?

For your own search-and-destroy pleasure, here is the list of 94 words, and the rabbit trail that followed. Not all of these words were overused, but most of them were. For instance, “spewed” only appears once in my manuscript, but it was a word that I used to replace something else.

My challenge:  Take a look for these in your own manuscripts. Some involving explosions may not apply to everyone, but some of the everyday words might surprise you.  Try to use them only once every 20 pages and feel my pain.

Dang/Darn/Dernit

Shoot

Wow

Woa

Holy cow

Yikes

Sheesh

Geeze

Crap

God/Oh God

Say

Boy

Funny

Screamed

Howled

Shriek

Flinch

Gritted

Trembled

Adjusted

Moved

Shrugged

Pushed

Gazed

Scared

Terrified

Beckoned

Reeled

Burned

Itched

Seared

Handling

Recoiled

Throbbed

Spewed

Echoed

Yearn

Warn

Shuddered

Quaked

Bite cheek

Straighten

Eyes wide

Gape

Hunch

Looked

Spread

Slid

Churn

Singed

Shoved

Shimmied

Shiver

Tremor

Begged

Darkened

Strode

Startled

Gasp

Gulp

Alarmed

Chilled

Dumfounded

Frightened

Petrified

Wheezed

Whimpered

Sigh

Succumb

Groan

Moan

Grunted

Hitch

Shouted

Wailed

Stared

Shift weight

Thunder

Shook

Exhale

Finger

Grimaced

Slumped shoulders

Rub temples

Clenched

Puffed

Spoke

Hollered

Yelled

Called

Barked

Huffed

Sneered

Grumbled

I’ve already handed in my edits, and just reading over that list again made me tired.

What words do you tend to overuse?

_JenniFer____EatoN

Oh yeah? I mean, No! No yeah! — What’s your “yeah?”

Yeah.  It’s my new nemesis.  Oh, I’ve had other nemeses’ in the past, but “Yeah” has just become the granddaddy of them all.

I’m editing out overused words in my manuscript, and while I was searching for “Oh” I noticed quite a few “Oh yeahs”  So I jotted down the word “yeah” at the end of my list to take a look at later.

Imagine my surprise, when sitting down to what I THOUGHT would be a short editing session, and I find that I’ve used the word “yeah” 223 times in a 246 page manuscript.

Oh_No!!!!

And it’s not even like “yeah” appears once a page.  There are several pages in a row that have no occurrences of “yeah” whatsoever.  And then the next page is all lit up with five yellow highlights.

How did this happen? – And how did none of my beta’s not even mention it?

One of my really strong points is dialog.  I can “hear” my characters talk, and I just transcribe.  When both of your main characters are teenagers, the word “yeah” seems to pop out a lot, and it SOUNDS absolutely fine, even though repeated.

But I’m sure a publisher wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about so many “yeahs” on a page.

Yikes!

Through editing, I cut it down from 223 to 67.  A lot of them still appear multiple times on a page, but I think they need to stay this way to keep the “voice” of the characters intact. And hey, they are teenagers. They say “yeah”, ya know?

In my final read for flow, I will make special notice of them, and continue to trim them away wherever possible.

What’s your most recent word nemesis?

JenniFer_Eaton Sparkle__F

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No happy shruggers — Rule #29 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

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I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #29

I Love Love Love smile and shrug.  I’ve learned to curb my sighing, but I used to be guilty of that too.

I think smiling and grinning are overused in a lot of writing.  I really don’t worry about it in a first draft.  I let them smile and shrug away.  But these words are on my list of little buggers to pare down when I’m all done.

I just go in to my manuscript, do a search for “shrug” and my manuscript lights up like a Christmas tree.  So like a good little editor, I give my manuscript a present and curb them down to once every 50 pages or so.

Smiling Sadly has to do with that “ly” rule.  Almost every “ly” word can be removed from a manuscript.  I try not to type them at all, even in a first draft.

What words do you overuse?  Do you smile sadly while you shrug off your grin?

Jennifer___Eaton

What the… Oh My Gosh, Oh No, Oh Crap, and whatever…

Final edits can be maddening, can’t they? As I go through my list of overused words, I always find new things that make me giggle.

My current giggle-a-thon is coming in the form of teenage explicatives.  They sound perfectly right in-context. “Oh my gosh, you are not going to do that!”

Buy when I ran a search on “Oh” and my screen lit up with pretty highlights—I realized how many of my main character’s dialog lines start with the word “Oh”.  It’s funny really.

The good thing about using the search feature to ferret out these little problem is you can look at each instance outside of the frame of the narrative.  It’s much easier to edit when you are not getting “caught up” in the story.

So, at the moment I am in final edits for Fire in the Woods, and I am removing a good portion of the “Oh my gosh”, “Oh my God”, “Oh crap,” and of course, the every-so intrusive “umm”.

Of course, I am leaving in a few for color, but I’m trying to cut my repetition down to once every ten pages or more. (Quite a feat at times.)

How do you search and destroy over-used words and phrases?

JenniFer_EatonF