Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Crutch Words

Just yesterday, I finally finished what should be my last round of revision on my YA contemporary romance - hooray! Oddly enough, despite the fact that what I just sent to my agent is probably the tenth version of this manuscript, this revision was the hardest and probably the most comprehensive. I cut almost 5,000 words, but the thing is, it's not like I was deleting whole scenes or chapters, I was deleting individual words. Words that I now realize I was using as a crutch.

When it comes to writing, a crutch word or crutch phrase is something we writers stick into the manuscript to mimic our personal way of speaking, fill in a gap in a scene, or even to make the story flow because it "feels right." To the writer, those words barely register, but to the reader, they can stick out like a sore thumb. (For instance, I was reading some of my old Operation Awesome posts and realized how often I say "always." It's way too often.)

Crutch words are sneaky like that. They flow so well in a sentence that you barely notice them, and when it comes time to cut your word count, they can somehow dance around that axe blade. They remind me of that brain teaser where you have to count the number of times the letter F appears in a sentence. You overlook obvious answers simply because you've gotten used to seeing them in a certain way, and it's really hard to retrain your brain. Some words are inevitably going to pop up a lot in a manuscript - "the," "and," "or," "a," and other words like them are nearly unavoidable - but others can be avoided, or at the very least swapped out.

Here's a selection of my dirty little secret crutch words and what I ended up doing with them:

  • Try to: 78 (deleted)
  • Turn to: 49 (deleted)
  • We all: 15 (became "we")
  • Just: 205 (deleted)

To be honest, I was a wee bit embarrassed with myself when I finished my deleting spree. I've been revising this manuscript for months; how was it that between six drafts, two "final versions," and three revisions, I was still doing things like this? How did I miss the fact that I used the word "just" on more than half the pages? Eventually, I realized that, throughout my revision process, my focus was on long sentences and dialogues between characters, not individual words. Once I got over that block, I was able to look critically at every single word and question its place, its relevance. It was a difficult task, but in the end, I got my word count down to its target range.

What are your crutch words? What do you catch yourself writing more than you should? And just as importantly, what are you going to do about it?

1 comment:

  1. Ugh! Crutch words are my second biggest writing pet peeve. I rely too much on As, And, and But. Going back during the revision to take the majority of them out really helps to tighten up the prose.


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