Every writer has his own list of favorite words. You know what I’m talking about. They’re the ones you tend to rely on a little too heavily in your writing,without realizing it. Then your scene comes back from your critique partner all marked up in red, and you realize you’ve been a little lazy in your writing.
Here’s my personal list of my top 10 Most Overused Words, plus 1:
1. Expression– “She wore a (insert adjective of choice) expression on her face.” I don’t know about you, but I feel lazy when I resort to this. How about getting a little creative and showing rather than telling? Your readers will thank you for keeping them engaged.
2. Eye (eyed, eyeing)– I need your help on this one. Does it bother you when a character’s eyes land on something, or follow someone across a room? Does it conjure up pictures of eyeballs literally popping out of their sockets, or is this an acceptable alternative to the oft-used “gaze”? Either way, don’t let the eyes have it to excess in your writing.
3. Face– As in “he faced her, she turned to face him”.
4. Feel/felt– Definitely passive. Not a problem every now and then, but a little goes a long way.
5. Gaze/gazed– Wouldn’t you think that with all the looking around we do, there would be more decent synonyms for it?
6. Glanced– Same as the problem we have with #5, only quicker.
7. Pull– Until I started writing seriously, I had no idea how many things could be pulled. “She pulled her gaze…. He pulled the door….They pulled a fast one.”
8. Regard/regarded– This is one that’s easy to overuse in your attempt to avoid “look” or “gaze”. “She regarded him warily.” Not a problem every now and then.
9. That-You will find, when you start paying attention to this word, that about half of these are probably not needed. Your writing will be cleaner after snipping some of your ‘thats’.
10. Turned– Sometimes my characters do so much turning, it makes me downright dizzy.
11. (Bonus Word) Was– Passive and boring. It’s fine at times, but you would do well to tighten up your writing with a was-ectomy.
Click here to check out ProWritingAid, a really nifty FREE tool that analyzes, among other things, overused words in your writing. I just discovered it, and considering my own reliance on this list of repeat offenders, I think I’m going to use it repeatedly.
As a writer or a reader, what are your favorite overused words?
Sarah Gunning Moser says
As both a writer and an avid reader, one of my pet peeves is when writers call people ‘thats’. As in “she was the one that wrote the book”. Sorry, people are not inanimate objects or animals. Human beings are “whos”, as in “she was the one who wrote the book”. This mistake is all too common and drives me up the proverbial wall. (So other than THAT, THAT’s all, folks!”)
Yes, Sarah. This is one I’ve struggled with lately. I’ve had that conversation-within-a-conversation (you know, where you stop mid-sentence, leaving the people around you hanging, while you ask yourself “or should that be ‘who’?”) more than once in recent days.
Here’s a question for you; in my WIP, I have a character ponder whether the mean girl is colder than the drink she’s holding. Should he ask “who is icier” or “which is icier”?
Guilty! Haha, but then again, we all are at some point or another, am I right?
Oh yes. It’s impossible to avoid:)
Lynnette Bonner says
His expression hardened as he turned and eyed her across the room. He felt his heart tug as she turned to face him and their gazes collided. She pulled her long blonde hair over one shoulder and then gave it a haughty flip. He turned back to the bar and regarded his drink. Which was icier? That girl, or the cubes in his glass?
Okay… I think I got one of everything in there just for your critiquing pleasure! 😀
Good post and oh so true.
Hi there, Chris, Product Manager for ProWritingAid here. Thanks for the mention. You’ll be glad to hear that we’ll be adding functionality to add your own overused words to our software soon. Great list btw; we’ll consider adding some of your other suggestions as standard.