December 30, 2009 at 5:23 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , )

I’ve been going through the editing process, trying to get my first novel ready for publication and it has recently been brought  to my attention that despite my own editing and rewriting I have still overused so many lines and expressions.  Painful and annoying.

Which lines and phrases do you overuse?  Mine:

  • There was/There were – which is silly given in most cases if I cut this part of the sentence off, it still makes perfect sense with very minor adjustments.
  • Absolutely – I overuse this when writing in first person.  Everything is absolutely something.
  • Apparently – Again, I overuse this when writing in first person.  Everything is apparent to my protagonist apparently.

There are definitely other words and lines that I abuse with overuse but those three are the ones giving me a headache at the moment.  It is interesting how easy it is to overlook something that should be staring you in the face.  The fact that I have used these so many times should have leapt right out at me but it didn’t.  It would have if I was reading someone else’s work but because it was my own I suddenly became blind and oblivious.

So which words do you overuse?  How do you catch them?



  1. Lovely Lace said,

    All of the pronouns! I can’t stop using them, but I’ve learned to just keep going even if I’m being repetitive because otherwise, I’d get frustrated and it would take me longer to finish. It’s always easier to go back when you’re finished. And you are so congrats!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I definitely wouldn’t worry about it in the first draft but given how many times I’ve gone through the piece it is really bugging me that there are still so many mindless repetitions. I think I managed to catch most of the excessive pronouns, I hope I did. I know I overuse them in the first draft a lot. Thanks for your comment.

  2. ideagirlconsulting said,

    I keep saying the same things over and over again in one chapter, but writing each just a little bit differently, now that is annoying!

    I definitely (is another one I use way too much)

  3. Crystal Clear Proofing said,

    If there are certain words or phrases you are aware that you use a lot, use the FIND feature in your word processing program to find them, then either eliminate them or use the THESAURUS to find a word to replace them with.

    A second set of eyes to read your work is also an excellent option. In college, papers are exchanged among students so no one reads their own work. It is much easier to see these types of things in someone else’s work as opposed to our own. 🙂

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Definitely easier to spot the mistakes of others than my own. I know you can use the find to locate words but is there anyway to count how many times a word has been used?

  4. michelleteasdale said,

    I think my most commonly used word is ‘as’. Too many of my sentences start ‘as she …’ or ‘as the…’. I agree with the comment that said getting someone else to read your work means it’s easier for them to spot your repetitions. Another good tip I heard is to record yourself reading the work out – repeated words stand out much more when you hear it back.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      That is a really good idea. Hearing it would make the repeats stand out quite well I would imagine. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. j-a brock said,

    I tend to have characters looking at each other, then looking somewhere else all the time. The other thing I overuse is people sitting around a table and eating while they’re having an important conversation.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think I do that too – the looking at each other and then looking away thing. My characters eyes tend to do a lot of things and I maybe need to work on other ways for them to express how they feel.

      • twaddleoranything said,

        My characters often have hyperactive eyes, too! It seems eyes have always been my fallback for emotional expression in my writing, so I’ve been trying to do more with tone of voice, body positions, and so on. It’s not easy, though, once you’ve fallen into a comfortable pattern!

        I agree with Michelle’s comment that reading a passage out loud to yourself can make a huge difference in how you edit it. Best of luck with your revising!

  6. Corra McFeydon said,

    Someone at the critique site where I post writing suggested pasting chapters into because it shows you the words you use most often.

    I’ve an urge to say ‘extremely’ all the time. An unnecessary modifier, but it still keeps popping up. Extremely troublesome. Har! 🙂

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Wordle is quite good for showing overuse of words but I’ve never tried it for an extended piece of writing. An extremely great suggestion.

  7. Sam Downing said,

    I second Corra’s advice – it can help you pick up words you’re abusing (it helped me discover that I overuse the adverb “just”, for example).

    I also way overuse “could”, as in “she could hear” instead of “she heard”.

    And I too must confess to be a “was/were” addict.

  8. annashareen said,

    I use the verb “frowned” excessively. My character does a lot of it in the story, but it showed up at least ten times when I did MS Word’s auto-summary. I think it may come from hyper-revising the “She was… He was…” structure. It’s funny – no one else among the comments seems to have a favourite verb…

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think I usually catch verbs that are overused it is the modifiers and filler words that I miss. The verbs for some reason stand out. I do overuse variations of walk. My characters never walk anywhere in the first draft. They stride, saunter, amble, or do anything other than walk and it ends up being ridiculous.

  9. Michelle said,

    My characters drink WAY too much tea and coffee, and sigh and laugh A LOT. Also, they are always staring.

    It feels at this point like making and drinking caffeinated beverages is 25% of the action in my novel. OOPS.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Isn’t it strange how we do things like that? Several of my characters are addicted to sweet foods and spend large amounts of time finding, talking about, or consuming sweet food. I tried to get away from that in one of my stories and they all switched to drinking tea.

  10. dystophil said,

    For some reason I can’t help but notice how many of my sentences start with “I”. Given that my novel has two first person narrators, it does make sense, however I constantly have to remind myself not to group a lot of “I-sentences” together.

    Also, I tend to have an eye-fetish I’m trying to get rid of. Focusing too much on a character’s eyes and not drawing a more complex picture of body language etc. gets pretty tedious.

    Oh and something else a friend pointed out to me the other day. One of my characters uses the word “fuck” and all it’s pointy variations quite a lot – usually at least – she actually criticized a chapter in which he sounds out of character, because he doesn’t use it enough.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      You’re the third person to mention getting fixated on what characters eyes are doing. It does help with emotion but you’re right, there are other ways to express that and draw a larger picture of the characters.
      Overusing I is one of the downfalls of first person. You end up trying to rewrite huge amounts and then it doesn’t sound like the character anymore.

  11. Katherine Gilraine said,

    I’m guilty of overusing the world “Seriously” in conversation and in overall writing, I just get redundant to high hell. ‘”Yes,” he confirmed’ is such an instance – the confirmation is a given, so why do I keep putting that in? I try to be descriptive, but not in such a way that would overdo it – and end up overdoing it twice over.

    It’s fixable in editing but egad.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Fixable in editing but egad – I understand what you mean.

  12. Fiona Skye said,

    I can’t for the life of me remember what word/phrase I use too much. I know there are a few, but as I’ve just woken up and have not yet had my coffee, my brain is not fully engaged.

    I do, however, remember that Jane Austin seems overly-enamoured of “amiable” and Anne Rice loves “preternatural”. Diana Gabaldon has a couple of words she uses A LOT, but they’re like $64,000 words and I don’t mind that because I’ve learned new words as a result. It always makes me chuckle a bit when I see the same word or phrase used on practically every page in a book. I wonder if the editors were asleep or something.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      It is interesting when you read certain authors and you just know they havea pet word or phrase that is going to appear somewhere. Thanks for the comment.

    • dystophil said,

      I know there are more, but one of Gabaldon’s favorite word seems to be “sardonic”. It always amuses me when I read that one.

  13. Samantha said,

    Thank you very much for your input about characters. I appreciate it! I can use as much advice as possible right now.

    I was noticing my repetition last night with certain words as I was writing. But I guess since it’s just my first draft and I needed to get it out at the time, I will just go back later and edit it. I’m just at the beginning process right now.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      The first draft doesn’t count. Getting the story and ideas down is what is important. Revise and rewrite later. Best of luck with your writing.

  14. Carol J. Garvin said,

    I think most of us have speech habits that we aren’t aware of. Unfortunately, asking friends to read our work won’t always pick up the repetitions and cliches because the friends expect our writing to sound like us. If this is a first novel you might find it helpful to involve an experienced critique group or even a professional editor to offer unbiased suggestions so you can feel confident it’s your best possible work when you reach the submission stage.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Some great advice. Friends do tend to expect you to write in a certain way and so they do miss things from time to time. Thanks for the comment.

  15. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    “Just.” and “sighed.” I’m always doing find/replace for those suckers…

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  16. catwoods said,

    I have nodding, grinning bobble-heads who use the word “that” too often. Being conscious of it, however, has erradicated many of them.

  17. Siggy said,

    I am guilty too of using the same words in my blogs and repeating the same statements. I do not worry about it in the first draft. I just want to get it down. Afterwars I have to go over my blog over and over to catch the repetitions. And stillI miss words or phrases. My wife’s reaction when she hears my blog for the first time is usually very helpful. There is always something I miss no matter how many times I have read my blog.

  18. Linda said,

    It’s true that a reader can help you spot overuse of certain words. I had one who noted that I had a lot of “jumping” going on: she jumped up, she jumped out of bed, etc. I hadn’t realized that at all. Then I noticed I used it most for one character, who is high-energy, but I had to find a way to vary the description of her sudden movements.

    I used Wordle for a while, I even blogged about it, but then slacked off. If I’d used it when I got to the third part of my novel, I might have caught the jumping myself. 🙂

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