Authors must be aware of words they overuse and that will irritate readers
Every writer has words they use a lot, too often in fact. They’re called go-to words. In my fiction writing, I use a smile, nod, and sigh a lot. Too much, way too much. But I never realized this until my editor pointed it out.
I also tend to have my characters grin, whisper, and wink. Plus, I enjoy it when they grasp, squeeze, and scrunch. Yep, these are my top nine go-to words. I have a list.
I also overuse just, only, and bit. And don’t get me started on adverbs, which harkens back to bad instruction from high school. (Though it might have been common practice back then.)
Your go-to words will likely differ from mine, but maybe my list will get you started on making your own.
Yes, you should make a list of your go-to words, as well as overused phrases and the common errors you make. One of my common errors is writing all of when I should be satisfied with all.
As I progress in writing a book, one of my editing phases is to work through my list of go-to words. One by one, I search for my overused words and fix them.
Sometimes characters have to smile, so I leave them smiling. But other times their smile does nothing to advance the story, so I wipe that smile off their face, that is, I delete the word from my writing. But I prefer to find creative ways to communicate my intent. Sometimes this task is easy, and other times it provides a challenge.
One final thought about scaling back on our go-to words is that we can inadvertently create new ones. For example, to scale back on the nod, I started having characters bob their heads, which is even more annoying. So in attempting to fix one problem, I caused another. Don’t do that.
This list of my go-to words only applies to my fiction writing. I need to make another list for my nonfiction work. A few that I’m aware of enough to avoid are corresponding, conversely, significant, and efficacy. But I’m sure there are more.
If you know your go-to words, great. If not, ask someone to read your work and tell you. Then find them and fix them.
Your writing will be stronger and you won’t weary your readers with repetition.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.