Monday, July 26, 2010

Only You Can Prevent Word Abuse

I hit my 100th follower, which is AWESOME! Thanks to all of you for helping me reach this milestone.

Awesome is one of my favorite words. Although I do believe it applies here, awesome is one of those words that is overused. It reminds me of a story. My husband and I were talking one day, and he said (very loosely quoted), “One day, we will be riding up the escalator to Heaven. The angels will be singing, the sky will be illuminated, and at that moment – I will frog you in the arm and say ‘that is awesome’.”

Writers often have “go-to” words, peppered throughout their writing. I’ve noticed it during critiques, my own writing, and even published books. A light dusting is not a major offense, but when these words appear on nearly every page or every paragraph—revisions must be done. However, it’s an easy fix.

There are several ways this is done in writing. Sometimes it’s the character that is the offender. In my novel, Iron Thirst, one of Felicity’s favorite words is complete, such as complete disaster. It is a useless adjective, but it is a part of her speech. But like the use of cuss words—it needed to be reduced to one written word for every seven times she would say it in real life.

Another example is the overuse of rarely used words. The first time I noticed this in published work was in Twilight. Did anyone else notice the overuse of the word chagrin? It stood out, because it’s not a word heard too often. When teenagers were saying it, it came across as even more odd. Now, Stephanie Meyer has obviously done well for herself, but we are not all going to be as lucky.

Sometimes it is our own addictive nature that goes to these words, and many times they are useless words. Very, really, and just are examples that I have plucked out of my own writing. Slight rewording will fix it. If something is “very tall” (telling), maybe it hurts your neck to look up at it or maybe clouds hide the top (showing).

The first step is admitting you have an issue. Run your manuscript through Wordle. It’s a visual tool that will show you the most used words in your book. Use your judgment, but if like, just, really, or very is larger than the name of the love interest—Houston, we have a problem.

Step Two – Fix it. Using find (Control+F) within your manuscript to locate all the uses of the overused word, and then either omit, replace or reword. Some people will tell you to stay far away from a thesaurus, but I disagree. I find it to be a great tool, but use it sparingly. I don’t grab the nearest three syllable word, but I use it to trigger my memory of a word that I might be forgetting. But make sure it fits your text, mood, and voice.

Learning your “go-to” words is part of revising, and with a little research—you will find the best way to correct this within your writing. Only you can prevent word abuse.

What are some of your “go-to” words? What other tools do you use to find or fix the problem?


  1. Yes, I like the Thesaurus too. I don't always find an alternative word, but sometimes I find different ways of phrasing things because I didn't like what I found, so I browsed a bit more.

    I know, I know, inspiration takes many paths to find a writer.

    My comfort words are: Dude, as, although, really - man that list goes on. (haha; "man" is another one)

    I'm sorry, I'm forgetful - and lazy. I remember you got a request for Iron Thirst? How'd that go?

    And what are you working on now?

    Later Dude.


  2. Congrats for the 100 followers! :)

  3. Congratulations on reaching the 100!
    I worry what I might find under the influence - of Control+f - of course. ;) Great advice.

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    God Bless!