Monday, February 7, 2011


ROSEMARY: One day I will do a "find and replace" search in one of my books for the words maybe, perhaps and probably. I've weaned myself from a little, some and a few, but no matter how hard I try probably, perhaps and maybe keep cropping up on the pages.

I tell myself that because I write an amateur sleuth and the situations and crimes are not related to weapons of mass destruction (although a couple of maybes in that area probably wouldn't have been out of line..) or global destruction, and my characters are not law enforcement professionals - THEY'RE NOT SURE. THEY'RE AMATEURS FOR PETE'S SAKE.

Sometimes it's unavoidable. You don't especially want to telegraph a clue, but an amateur sleuth has to have the occasional lightbulb moment otherwise she's clairvoyant (not necessarily a bad thing, just not the character I'm writing these days.)
"OMG, perhaps Colonel Mustard wasn't really in the kitchen with a knife. Maybe it was. . ." I don't remember any other names from Clue so you fill in the blanks.

Does anyone else feel the pull of these qualifying words? Any other words or phrases you'd like to eliminate but can't? (No fair saying things like "baby bump" - most of us would like to see that go away.)

HANK: Miss Scarlet. That's who I always was. I always do an edit-find for "just." Just asking, just saying, just do it, just thought of, just wondering, just a little, AHHHHHH!!! I just use it so--ah, I mean, I use it so often.

I also edit-find for really, nodded and shrugged.

Maybe, perhaps and probably
. Huh. You know, I never thought about overusing those words. Thinking back over my new ms, I just bet that--I mean, I bet that maybe is there pretty often. Hmm. I'll give you a full report.

HALLIE: Hank took my word. Just.

I agree, qualifying words are all suspect. Like really and very. (As in "he was really loud very often.") They're really waffle words. They add to your word count but otherwise contribute little.

And most -ly adverbs, she said sagely, do not survive my sniff test.

And just (oooh, it's hard not to do it) about any verb used in place of 'said' or 'asked' with dialogue has to go.

JULIA: I heartily agree with Hallie's stand on speedily eliminating adverbs. I've done an 'ly' search when my last two books were in manuscript form to check on all my adverbs. It took forever! But it enabled me to make sure if I used an adverb, it was intentional.

My other word problem? I tend to fall in love with one word and use it way too many times. In my first book, people were CONSTANTLY 'levering' themselves out of chairs. In one of my more recent ones (memory mercifully clouds) I used 'eviscerate' at least three times. And I'm not writing about Hannibal Lecter!

ROSEMARY: I'm pretty good (qualifying?) about said but I have been known to have someone whisper. C'mon...if they're hiding..?

RHYS: I have to stop my characters from smiling, grinning, chuckling and laughing. They keep wanting to do it and I have to keep reminding them that they must stay somber at all times! Oh and also guilty of adding qualifiers to the word said (sharply, sweetly, abruptly, angrily etc etc).
Not guilty about the use of maybe. My characters are somewhat cocky and believe in themselves,however misguided this is!

ROSEMARY: I feel better about maybe if Rhys says it's okay.

ROBERTA: I was always Miss Scarlet too, Hank. Not maybe or probably. And ditto, "just" is my downfall. "Just as she reached for the doorknob..." "Just as she crossed over the bridge..." For some reason, it seems like the perfect, perfect transition. If I went through and cut them all out, I'd be in danger of losing half my manuscript. Sigh...

JULIA: I'm always Mrs. White, just like I'm always the thimble in Monopoly. Typecast by my children.

DEB: I, too, suffer from just disease. And what about suddenly? I can USUALLY find something to replace just, but there doesn't seem to be anything that quite does the job of suddenly. "In that instant"? Oh, and that last sentence reminds me--I have a bad "quite" habit, too. Or as well . . . And my characters say bloody much too often. But it's JUST such a good expressive curse. I think it would be worth being British just to say bloody on a regular basis.

ROSEMARY: Any words you write or read a little too often for comfort?


  1. I plead guilty to "just" abuse.

    But there are words for which it is hard to find a substitute. Like "shrugged." It's a physical indication of an emotional state, no? What else can you use?

    The keyword for my WIP is "discreet." I must have applied it to everyone in the book at least once. They're all being very discreet while talking about all the details of the crime. Uh-huh.

  2. Suddenly - easy peasy.

    Delete it. Then replace the verb in the sentence with a stronger one that shows the suddenliness of the action.

    (Suddenly the door opened becomes: The door flew open... crashed open... blasted open etc.)

    Yay verbs! But the big showy ones (like eviscerate) I try to limit to once in a manuscript.

  3. I abuse "said" and "very" and a few others I can't put my finger on at the moment. My first reader points them out and then gives me a chance to justify them. She's right most of the time. Certain words become a habit. I like Hallie's suggestion. Find a better word to describe the one you use too much. :o) I wish someone would replace the words for dentist appointment. It's only a cleaning, but I dread it just the same. Have a great Monday everyone.

  4. If we are only suppose to use said and asked, how do express how a person is saying something?

    I'm guilty of using 'then' and 'ruddy' too much.

  5. My key word was flicker. SHe flickered a glance at him...
    Finally my husband asked--is that a real word?

    I have trouble replacing looked. SHe looked up at him, he loooked back at her, they looked at the screen...when it's not stared or glared or faced or whatever...and NODDING! My people have got to stop nodding.

    Hal, thanks for the suddenly fixes. That IS such a tempting word.

  6. Writing is hard! Writing well is harder.

    I've read three books in the past week that overused the word "demur" or "demurred". One book used it three times in one chapter. That's one a good copyeditor should catch.

    My personal pet peeve is the word "got". For awhile there it was so overused, but I don't see it as often as I used to.

  7. Melissa asks: If we are only suppose to use said and asked, how do express how a person is saying something? I can't resist...

    One answer: THIS is why characters have bodies and props: USE THEM!
    "I hate it when this happens," she said, staring into her drink.
    "I hate it when this happens," she said, smacking her glass down on the table.
    "I hate it when this happens," she said, giving me an icy stare.
    And so on....Yay, nuance.

  8. Just just just just just - I really must avoid "just." These words are like weeds - as soon as you pull one repeat offender, another pops into place to taunt you. Prior to "just" the thorn in my side was "that."

  9. Yeah, that. Sue Ann, I'm with you. It;s annoying, too, to read. I'm pretty careful about it.."that" jumps out at me.

    How about--"She had had too many times when...." Why do people write "had had"??

  10. Actually. It creeps into my dialog when I'm not looking.

  11. I admit to overusing "got". What does that say about my literary genius?

    I have a lesser hangup on "look," as in "looked him right in the eye.
    Speaking of which,"eye" also crops up a good bit.

    Nice to know you published literary lights have similar hangups. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I'm a "just"ifier, too! So funny. Oh, and so and maybe. First readers of an early mss pointed out that I used "rustle up" too often, as in "she rustled up some eggs for breakfast," and "he rustled up some note paper." Maybe if they were cattle-stealing villains it would've worked better.

  13. I feel a JUST t-shirt coming on. I confess, I'm a just-er too. Sometimes there's just not a better word. Very sneaks in all over the place but I always seem to catch it in second read. And then there's THEN. The wonderful, smooth, totally useless little transitional.

    Hallie - your 'better verb' advice will echo through the week and longer. Thank you. Yay verbs!

    My characters turn to each other, All.The.Time. He turns, he looks, he nods. She does the same until I want to call in an exorcist to stop the turning heads. Or put food in their hands.

    The key word for my current WIP is "vulnerable". Everyone's doing it, feeling it, showing it but not for long after this post...

  14. Rochelle, I NEED vulnerable! Thank yo. And discreet, too, thanks so much. And I may just tuck in a rustle up.

    Sometimes I'll see a simple work..and I think--Oh!Yeah! I forgot about that one.

    Yesterday, it was cupped. As in--he cupped his hand over the receiver...

  15. Let's see, mine are:

    I used to use just and very but lost them along the way in my writing career. However, I especailly am fond of ing words lately according to my critique group.

  16. Pat! I've never used especially or groaned. That I can remember, at least. Thank you! Lovely.

  17. I am just so relieved to find out I'm not the only one with a just problem. It's one of the things I use to beat myself over the head with at low-esteem time. "You call yourself a writer and you use" just" just about all the time?" So thrilled to know it's endemic.

    "Suddenly" also a problem. Hallie's suggestion is great, but my character is an old woman who can't really crash and bang. I had her heave herself out of a chair. I hope that works.

  18. Hank, my critique partners joke that I would put especially in every paragraph in my fiction or non-fiction if they let me.