Is your writing limping along? Is it not as strong as you would like? Maybe it’s because you’re using too many crutch words and lazy phrases to prop it up.
Crutch words and lazy phrases are words and phrases that distance the reader from your characters, and (ultimately) from the story. They are overused words, imprecise words and phrases, clichés, filler phrases, and meaningless adverbs.
Two of my worst crutch words were began and started. I was often writing statements such as: Jolenar began to reach for the door. Then, one of my writing instructors pointed out that unless the character’s action is interrupted at some point, the readers don’t care when the character began, continued, and completed the action. Therefore, all you need to tell the reader is: Joelnar reached for the door. Of course, if Joelnar’s reaching was interrupted by something, then that’s different: Joelnar began to reach for the door when his hand was jabbed by a knife. Using began in that instance provides a more nuanced picture for the reader.
However, since those types of nuances aren’t needed often, then neither are began or started. Instead, you need to state the character’s actions and be done with it.
As writers, we’ve been admonished about using adverbs forever (or so it seems), and still I find them creeping into my work. For me, they are my lazy fillers for a first draft. I know, in broad strokes, what I want the scene to be, so I throw in some lazy fillers as a signal to go back and flesh it out once I’ve given it some more thought. While that may seem like a good way to move ahead with the story, the key is to remember to go back and replace those lazy fillers. Too often, a writer will read the piece with the lazy fillers in it, and think, “That’s not bad. I’ll just leave it as is…” but that’s just shoddy writing. Get out the pen and replace those lazy words and phrases. Once you do, you’ll realize how much better it is.
The worst crutch words, though, are the distancing words and phrases. When you write a phrase such as: Jenna felt exhausted … or I felt elated… you’re not letting the reader in. You are holding the reader at arm’s length rather than letting them experience the story. Don’t tell the reader how Jenna felt, show them. Jenna struggled up the steps. She clutched the rail with both hands and yanked herself forward. Her legs were dead weights; her breaths came in wheezing gasps. She so wanted to just collapse onto the steps and give up, but she wasn’t a quitter. As the reader, I can now understand and relate to just how exhausted Jenna was. I also get some insight as to her character and personality. This lets me in and makes me want to know more about her and her situation. Whereas, telling me she was exhausted leaves me uninterested.
So, the next time you go through your writing, look for some of those crutch words and lazy phrases such as:
• A bit
• A moment
• Now/Even now
• Felt (as in emotions)
• Moved (instead of walked, ran, stood, sat, etc.)
These aren’t the only lazy words, but they are some of the most common. Once you get in the habit of looking for these, you’ll be able to recognize some of your own “favorites” and eliminate them from your writing.
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🐦CLICK TO TWEET🐦 #Authortip from @BookDailycom: Crutch Words and Lazy Phrases by @tasinator www.bookdaily.com/authorresource/blog/post/1985775 #amwriting #editing
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
TA Sullivan was born in the back of a cab in Chicago, Illinois, and she has continued to be unconventional in all that she does.
For over thirty years, she has made her living as a technical and marketing writer and editor in such diverse industries as manufacturing, cellular technology, and computer software. She has become quite proficient in turning boring into something readable and entertaining.
Her first book, Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp, is an autobiographical look into the world of death escorts and near death experiences. It won praise from critics and readers alike. Her next book, On Dreams and Dream Symbols, strove to expand people's awareness of their dreams and what those dreams might be trying to tell them.
Her latest book is a fantasy/visionary fiction novel called The Starstone. It is the first book in the Darkwind of Danaria series.