Saturday, March 09, 2013

Colby Marshall: Crutch Words

Writer by day, ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, Colby Marshall has a tendency to turn every hobby she has into a job, thus ensuring that she is a perpetual workaholic. In addition to her 9,502 regular jobs, she is also a contributing columnist for M Food and Culture magazine and is a proud member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. She is actively involved in local theatres as a choreographer as well as sometimes indulges her prima donna side by taking the stage as an actress.

Colby lives in Georgia with her family, two mutts, and an array of cats that, if she were a bit older, would qualify her immediately for crazy cat lady status. Her debut thriller, Chain of Command, is about a reporter who discovers the simultaneous assassinations of the President and Vice President may have been a plot to rocket the very first woman—the Speaker of the House—into the presidency. Chain of Command is now available, and the second book in her McKenzie McClendon series, The Trade, is due for publication by Stairway Press in June 2013.

Watch the official book trailer for Chain of Command here: You can learn more about Colby and her books at

Please join me in welcoming Colby as our guest blogger this weekend on Type M for Murder.

When I finish writing a manuscript, one thing never fails to make it into my revision notes: a list of word searches I need to perform.

Unfortunately, I’m not referring to the fun kind sold in the puzzle row of the local Barnes and Noble, either. Nope, this kind is that evil group of words I've used way too much in one manuscript: my “crutch words.”

These fallback words and phrases tend to be different for everyone, and sometimes, they vary from book to book. For example, during my first read through of my latest work in progress, the word “beast” appeared in the manuscript a disturbing amount. However, certain crutch words are common in writing, and many a manuscript can benefit from finding them. So take a deep breath, hit control+ F on your keyboard, and hunt down these top ten offenders:

10. Breath. Check out how many times your characters take deep breaths or how many times you describe the quality of their breathing. Unless you're writing a lung transplant story, chances are you don't need as much breathing as you might think.

9. Started. A bad habit several writers have (and I am guilty, too) is inserting the words “started to” or “began to” prior to a more active verb. For some reason, this feels like a good idea, but sentences are nearly always stronger when the “starting” is cut and the action begins right away.

8. Adverbs. Okay, okay, so I’m not talking the word “adverbs” so much as the part of speech. That said, one of the things I most often hear criticized in writing is the use of too many adverbs. So search out those “ly” words and vow to cut at least two-thirds of them.

7. Thought. Such and such thought about doing xyz. Xyz, she thought. Too many thoughts can get bulky. Instead, try weaving thoughts into the narrative where possible.

6. Mind. Along the lines of thoughts, brains appear way too much in most writing. In fact, “brain” probably ties “mind” for the number six slot.

5. Amazing. If it’s that amazing, find a better, more descriptive word. Breathtaking, adorable, fantastic, flawless, magnificent, indescribable- whatever it might be, it’s more than amazing. Same thing goes for “beautiful.” If it’s beautiful, you can tell me more than that.

4. There. There were people in the room. There was a man in the park. Those “theres” will never tell your reader as much as a noun with an active verb. The people in the room whispered. The man slept on a park bench. Slash your “theres,” and I bet you’ll find stronger choices help both your pacing and description.

3. Look. Lots of times the looks are glances or stares, but other times, this word is thrown in to describe facial expressions or body language in lieu of what might be a more difficult effect to achieve. For example, “He looked afraid,” might be the easier way to convey fear, but easiest doesn’t equal best.

2. Make. He made a funny face. She made a fist. I think I’ll make dinner. (Gah! There’s the pesky “think” again! Gah! There!)

And the number one crutch word offender: That.
’Nuff said.

My rule of thumb for crutch words is to delete as many as I can, then be sure where I do use them, I don’t have proximity errors. I try not to pick the same word twice within a page of the last time I wrote it.

How about you? What are your worst crutch words? What words have you noticed writers lean on too much?


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

"There" and "look" are certainly [as are adverbs] at the top of my list.

Thanks for the reminder.

colbymarshall said...

Of course- I need the reminder as much as anyone, so it was helpful to type :-)