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  • Writer's pictureCandace Nola

06/18/2024 Writing Tips & Tools: Commonly used words and how to avoid them



As writers, we want to paint engaging pictures of our story that draw the reader in. Pictures that engage and immerse the reader in a world, situation, or scenario that we are creating. The key is to draw them in and keep them there, captivated by the imagery. The words must paint a picture, they must flavor it, scent it, illuminate it, and enrich it.


But as every writer knows, we all have those keywords that we cling to. Words that show up again and again in our writing. These can be words we love, words that sound unique to us or our style, or even common words that tired minds just toss out when we have been staring at a screen for too long. So how do we avoid this pitfall?


For starters, reading our work aloud during the editing process helps identify those overused words. Word has a read aloud feature now, as do most PDF applications. Utilize this feature to listen to your story several times to help find those typos, missed words, and yes, any catch phrases or over-used common words.


Next, read beyond your genre. Reach for those classics, those pulp fictions, Dickens, Twain, Kipling, Poe, King, Anne Rice and more. Read widely, read across your culture and your country. Immerse yourself in new flavors, new voices, new sounds. Discover new ways to describe a tree, a forest, a sound, a scent.


Pick up new vocabulary. Try word games. Buy a Word-A-Day desk calendar. Find ways to enrich your vocabulary and expand it. Find colorful words that work just as well to say the same thing, words that can help set a mood or illustrate an emotion better than the more commonly used word.


For example:

Said or Say as a dialogue tag. Try whisper, murmured, uttered, exclaimed, retorted, sneered, mocked. Each of those does double duty as a dialogue tag and setting an emotion. The reader can visualize the look on the character's face as they speak their dialogue. It helps them see the moment, the emotional response of each person.


As a horror writer, another commonly used word is fear or terror. Why not consider the following instead?  Tension, dread, doom, fright, scare, haunting, chilling, terrifying, horrifying, horrific, horrid, horrible, fearful, wary, nervous, anxious, tense.


Action words are also easy to resort to using the same ones. Words such as walk, look, wrote, rode, glanced. Consider these instead for ‘walk’ and note how each one lends itself to the character's personality or the tone of the situation. Sauntered, strut, strode, skipped, meandered, roamed, wandered, staggered, stumbled,  


Same for ‘Run or ran’. Try using ran, jogged, hurtled, raced, lunged, lurched, sprint, bolt, canter, hasten, hustled, scurried, trotted, trudged, scrambled.


Sticking with the horror theme, how about ‘stabbing or stab’? Consider using jab, thrust, rent, stick, wound, pierce, prick, puncture, tear, rip, cleave, chop, carve, clip, plow, plunge, ram, spear, harpooned, shank, sink, penetrate.


Here is another one for the horror crowd, scream or screaming. Why not try something else such as the below and again, note how each word can lend itself to the scene or the tone needed? Cry, shout, yell, call, howl, yelp, wail, screech, shriek, holler, roar, blare, bleat, bawl, bellow, yowling, squeal, sobbing, sniffling, whimper.

 

Other commonly overused words to watch for: big, little, small, heavy, very, whatever, thing/s, then, stuff, really, just, that, maybe, kind of, a lot, fast, slow, easy/easily, hard.


For the horror crowd: dark, scary, darkness, gaping, maw, gore, viscera, blood, stabbed, dead, lifeless, crimson, pitch-black, fear, bowels, tendrils, skeletal, pale, gaunt, ghostly.


There is nothing wrong with using these words, but try to use them in moderation, if or when needed. No more than once per page, whenever possible. Pay special attention to using them within the same paragraphs too. Too much repetition becomes boring for the reader.


One tool that I have found most helpful is a series of books that are available on Amazon. No, I am not affiliated with Amazon or the authors in any way. Several years ago, my first mentor advised me to get those books and to use them. And I do, often. I still suggest them to the new authors that I mentor.


There is a series of books called Writers Helping Writers and they have books geared to help writers convey emotions, actions, character traits and more within their writing without resorting to using the same repetitive or standard words and descriptions. These books go way beyond just overused words and are great tools in fleshing out your characters, settings, and backstory.


You can check them out here:

 

 

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