Monday, August 17, 2015

Groom your Pet Words

card carrying over-user of pet words 


Janet here.

Most writers have pet words we overuse. Each of us has our favorites, words like just, that, seemed, felt.

Seemed and felt are often used when telling instead of showing. When I'm doing revisions, I look for ways to show the characters' feelings through their expressions, actions and dialogue. To say, she felt dizzy is telling. Instead I can make her legs wobble, the room tilt, her stomach lurch. These details show without naming her dizziness.

Pet Words, get it? Who wouldn't love these sweet babies?

 
Just and that might not need to be in the sentence at all, though sometimes they do. Just can add emphasis or be replaced with words like merely. That may be necessary to make the sentence easier to read, but if it reads fine without it, highlight and delete.

I have pet action words, too. Can you guess them?

My characters smile and grin, gaze and eye, gasp and sigh. Yep, if you’re smiling, you probably use these action pet words, too. To keep things interesting, I may vary a grin by making it crooked. Or lopsided. Or toothy. Nothing wrong with grins, but after a while, I want to slap these happy people I created. Better I do it than the reader. LOL


Or I can use these pet words as nouns. Cool huh?   

His gaze (or eyes) scanned the room.

What else could he use in an historical to scan the room?

Myra’s fix came as a bit of a shocker when she suggested I write: He scanned the room.

Keep it simple stupid is now hanging above my monitor.

There’s nothing wrong with gaze. The problem is that I overuse it. So how can those of us enamored with gaze revise to get rid of way too many?

   A.   “We know no such thing,” Tess said, suspicion and mistrust in her gaze.

   B.   “We know no such thing.” Tess‘s eyes narrowed with suspicion and mistrust.

Not only did I get rid of gaze, I ended the sentence with more vivid words.


And then is an overused twosome of mine.
.  
   A.   “Rafe, been expecting you.” Mr. Russo rounded the counter and walked to the door, flipping the Open sign to Closed and then turned the lock. “Come on back.”

   B.    “Rafe, been expecting you.” Mr. Russo rounded the counter and walked to the door. He flipped the Open sign to Closed before turning the lock. “Come on back.”
We writers want to show these people, to give the reader an idea of their movements. But, we also want to avoid uninteresting and unnecessary actions, which is sometimes called walking the dog. Dogs notice everything along the way, every bush, tree or sign. To avoid walking the dog and boring my readers, I revised this sentence to read:
    C.   “Rafe, been expecting you.” Mr. Russo walked to the door, flipped the Open sign to Closed and turned the lock. “Come on back.”

Mr.         Mr. Russo is still active but hopefully not bogging the reader in details that don't matter.
Turned is another pet word of mine. I’m talking about footwork here. He turned back, his gaze locking with hers. (I couldn’t resist one more gaze.) He can also turn toward her, turn away from her, turn around her…


All that turning on the page can make the reader dizzy.
Groomers get rid of lots of useless fluff

So let's take our pet words to our personal grooming stations to cut, comb and brush them until they shine. Our readers will thank us. 
But we can’t revise what we’re not aware of. Pet words slip past me faster than a fly seeking air-conditioning through an open door.

When I’m aware of my pet words, I plug them into the Find feature on Word—one of my favorite gizmos—and let it plow through my manuscript in search of repetitive words. I will keep many gazes and eyes and turns in my stories, but the sad truth, once I’m aware of my pet words and diligently seek and destroy them, I will find new favorites taking their place in my next book. 

Even strong vivid words can be overdone. The more vivid and unique the word, the more the word will stick in our readers' minds so we may be able to use it only once. 

If you’re also a card-carrying over-user, share your favorite pet words. If you’re a reader who starts grinding your teeth at repetitive words, share the ones that irk you most. Or just share your favorite real life pet. We love pets here in Seekerville!
I brought breakfast this morning. Hope you enjoy the buffet of turnedovers, gazed donuts and grinola. The breakfast of Champion Over-users!

Let's chat. For a chance to win a $15 Amazon gift card, leave a comment.

159 comments:

Helen Gray said...

Coffee's brewing!

You nailed me, Janet.

And you're right about each book having its own set of pet words.

Melissa Jagears said...

gaze and eyes and look are huge. Takes a lot of brain effort to get rid of them. And I try to only allow myself one shrug a chapter if necessary and nod and swallow.

cathyann40 said...

Interesting. I'd love to be entered for the giftcard.

Cindy W. said...

Great post Janet. I am guilty of over using the word "than", I noticed it one day in an email I wrote at work. I started looking at other things I'd written and yep, there it was flashing at me like a neon light.

Would love to be entered in your drawing.

Have a blessed week!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Tina Radcliffe said...

A buffet of turnedovers, gazed donuts and grinola. The breakfast of Champion Over-users!

That's a pun, son!! Love it. Duh on me.

Tina Radcliffe said...

"This is just the cutest post and I am not the least bit offended," SHE SAID, "at the overuse of the name Russo."

Tina Radcliffe said...

And then there are: narrowed eyes, nodded, shrugged, raised a brow, chuckled. Egads. Bring me a thesaurus.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Guilty as charged!!!! I can't believe how many words I overuse.... we get into patterns and we don't see it!

"a bit" "little" (I write a lot of kids, and "little" is my CRUTCH!!!! and my NEMESIS!!!) "smiled".... for all the angst I write, why do my people SMILE SO MUCH????? ERASE THOSE SMILES!!!!

But then when I go to replace "shrugged" with "lifted her shoulders" I think "just say 'shrugged', Ruthy because that's what she's doing!!!

Betwixt and between, this is always tough!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mr. Russo is certainly a man of action!!!!

Janet Dean said...

Yay, thank you, Helen! I am not alone!! And I'm caffeinated. Bless you.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Melissa, thanks for sharing your list of overused words. I've used them all. Swallowed is one of my favorites. He swallows hard. Yep. I'm guilty.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Cathy Ann,

You're entered. Thanks for stopping by.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Cindy W, lucky you! If all of our pet words would flash like a neon light, think how much easier it would be to ferret them out.

Hope your week is awesome!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Tina, if we overeat at the buffet of turnedovers, gazed donuts and grinola, we're bound to be pun-ished with indigestion.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Tina, Russo is my heroine's last names in my wip. I've warned her that she better live up to the honor of that esteemed name.

Janet

Mary Hicks said...

Thanks for a good reminder, Janet. I seem to love people who shrug, raise their brows and grin a lot. :-)

And how can one write without 'turning back' every few pages?

Janet Dean said...

A thesaurus is a writer's best friend, Tina, though I do think we can try too hard to use a variety of words, when some words like "said" just fade into the background. Or so I hope.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, you've nailed the problem! When we writers try to avoid overusing certain words, we're in danger of bogging the reader down in unnecessary verbiage.

Your characters are tough to endure all that pain you give them and still keep their smiles firmly in place.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Mr. Russo's actions made me dizzy. LOL Walking the dog is way too easy.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Mary Hicks, exactly! I totally understand the predicament. The more I think about it, the more I'm sure the problem lies with our characters, not with us. They turn and grin and nod and swallow. Why can't they be nonconformists? Unique? As Julie would say, they're brats and need to shape up!

Janet

Tracey Hagwood said...

Hi Janet,
I'll just have a gazed doughnut in your honor after just reading your cute post.

Just seems to be a word I just can't stop using ;)

One I've spotted from a writer I've read numerous times is "also" at the end of her sentences. It can be distracting when overused, it really pulls me out of the story, I have been known to start counting them after the first two.

Rose said...

Hi Janet,

Loved the pun...caught it right away unlike some of my pet words. Thank goodness for search and find so I can eliminate them during final revisions. AND when I do it always makes the sentence/paragraph stronger.

Courtney Ballinger said...

Gazed donuts sound yummy. ;)

"Just" and "turned" are pet words of mine. Plus movement verbs. I'm always wondering how to get my characters around without being repetitive. Lol! Thank the Lord for revisions!

Mary Hicks said...

Helen Gray, it's good to see you this morning! I just finished 'Ozark Sweetheart' and wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading it!

Loved your characters. I'm sighing deeply, raising my brows and turning back to get more coffee . . .

Janet Dean said...

Tracey, now I'm really nervous that an overused word counter is in our midst! LOL Will work harder at grooming my repetitive prose.

Just flows off my fingertips, but I usually can spot them and hit delete. The hard part is changing all the gazes, turns and the and thens into fresh writing.

Enjoy the gazed donut!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Rose. You're so right! Tossing our pet words is worth the effort. It's just hard to put them in the kennel when we seem to like having them around.

I looked at that last sentence and cringed at the pets: just and seem. LOL

Janet

Jackie said...

Hi Janet,

Turned and grinned are two words I use too much. Maybe because I use grin so much, when I come across it in published books I'm aware of how often it is used. Or overused. Maybe Seekerville should create a new word for grin and blast it on social media so we have another option besides smile and grin.

Have a great day!

LeAnne Bristow said...

Loved this post! I have so many pet words. According to feedback from an editor recently, both of my characters really like the word "Great." So, after reviewing other ms, I realize ALL my characters liked that word. Hmmm... I use Scrivener instead of Word and one of the tools it has is called text statistics. It breaks down all the words used and tells me how many times I used them. It's a very quick snapshot of all the words without having to look for one specific. I've discovered a lot of overused words that I hadn't thought to look for before.

Caryl Kane said...

Hello Janet! This is a great post. My pet words are barking to be let out of the kennel. Please toss me in the hat for the gc drawing.

Thanks.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Courtney. revision is our friend. I think my problem with overused actions is that I'm not seeing the other character or himself/herself through the POV character's eyes/head. The mood and sexual tension should elicit reactions and actions that fit what's happening, not clichés that write themselves. This gig isn't easy.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Mary Hicks, sighing after reading a wonderful book can never be overdone. Helen will be delighted!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jackie, your challenge to find another word for grin is tough. Sometimes smirk works. I think the answer is to make the dialogue vivid so we don't need tags to identify who's talking and how they're feeling.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi LeAnne. Wow, text statistics is a wonderful feature of Scrivener! Trying to learn how to use it makes me feel like an old dog...

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Caryl, all that barking can get on our last nerve. Any secrets for keeping our confined pets happy?

Janet

Tracey Hagwood said...

Never fear Janet, I've never noticed the overuse of pet words in Seeker books.

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

How about this: I'm now reading a very good book by a top selling romance writer in Ireland and she repeats the same two paragraphs in two different scenes -- both of which act to accomplish the same objective! This is surely an indy book for her. Since it has no typos in it I assume a line editor did not notice anything wrong.

Now what gets me the most is not pet words but PPPs - pet physical proxies. These happen whenever a character is having a given emotion and the author shows it by having the character do the same thing. Like when a character is stressed he always reaches up and runs his thumb and forefinger across his forehead. I mean every time! Franky, I'd rather be told he is preplexed.

Authors please create a variety of ways to 'show' a given emotion in a story if it is going to be a recurring emotion.

Also, the more obscure a pet word, the more I will notice it. While you can get away with spaced out common words repeating, a little used word will stick out like a sore thumb when repeated.

For example, I recently read a book where characters 'padded' rather than walked. That's so rare to me that I can't ever remember using this word myself. That word was in the story a great deal or else it just seemed to be because it was so unusual. (This author has to know who she is, I bet: ))

I must say that your writing is as free of pet words as I think it would be possible to write. And I read your prose as a model for clarity to emulate. So keep up the great work. And don't hurry the work.

Vince

Cindy Regnier said...

Yeah - you caught me Janet. I know I do this. I use a 'pet' word just to go on, thinking I'll come back and figure out something better later on. Usually doesn't happen. My problems, that I know about, are grin, gaze and turn - I'm trying to figure out ways to incorporate other sense besides sight to communicate feelings and expressions, but it's really hard. I find smells and sounds hard to show, much easier to tell.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, that's so true. Janet, you mentioned that too, overusing something unique so it sounds contrived.

I'm guilty of that. OR having two characters use a similar or the same phrase.

DUH.

The one exception I see to this is dialogue, having a character (and I do this with eccentric characters, some children and sometimes elderly characters) use a phrase repeatedly.

That can be so funny, and so delightfully normal, because we hear folks do that all the time. So that kind of repetitive use works for me.

Thank heavens for editors/copy editors and my daughter Beth (Jamison Editing) because they're not afraid to note things, advise, call me out.

HUGE.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning JANET, I'm so laughing at these pet words because I use them myself. Fortunately I've had editors who catch them for me. sigh. You would think I would learn to catch them myself. I really should take the time to go through a words search.

Another thing I do is acquire a pet word for the day. I get a word in my head and suddenly discover I've used that word twenty times in the chapter I wrote that day. Yikes. It was a word I liked that day. sigh. So I've learned enough about my writing to know I do that and go look for that "word of the day".

Sandra Leesmith said...

TRACEY what a lovely thing to say. And you're a prolific reader and would know. That means a lot. smile

Sandra Leesmith said...

JANET did you photo the scrabble words? How clever to use them. I love to play scrabble. Don't you?

Sandra Leesmith said...

Clever words Ms Russo. You are toooooo funny. And chuckled is one of my pet words. sigh

Janet Dean said...

Tracey, you are an encourager! I'm eating a grinola in your honor.

Janet

Jill Weatherholt said...

Guilty as charged, Janet! My characters do a lot of sighing...and they're generally happy people. Thanks for the reminder!

Jackie Smith said...

Janet, thanks for a "fun" post on Monday morning.... lol! As an avid reader, I can relate.....I do appreciate you authors so much!!
Count me in for the A card, please!!

Hallee Bridgeman said...

Great reminders, Janet. It always amazes me how the simple removal of one word and a little tweak can really make a sentence so much better than before - even when it conveys the same thing!

Janet Dean said...

Vince said: Authors please create a variety of ways to 'show' a given emotion in a story if it is going to be a recurring emotion.

You make a great point and issue a big challenge to us writers. I wonder if we are noting unimportant reactions that are hard to show in fresh ways. Sometimes the only point of showing the character's action/reaction is to tag who's talking. I will try to find some examples of how to do that effectively.

You're kind words encourage me, but I battle this redundancy with every book. Off t search for interesting actions.

Janet

Carolyn Astfalk said...

"Gazed" is easy to overuse, especially if you're already trying to swap out "looked."

Heidi Robbins said...

Great post! As a reviewer I'm sure I have my pet words- I think I'll look over my reviews and see which ones I use most. Thanks for the challenge to mix it up! Please add me to the drawing!

Janet Dean said...

I found a few examples of showing in LaVyrle Spencer's novel Years.

"His mouth pinched up like a dried berry..."

"He held up two big, horny palms in the air."

"The nerve of them, treating her as if she were the chamber pot nobody wanted to carry out back."

Anyone else have some fresh examples of showing characters that might trigger our creativity?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, I love a tough cp or editor who makes us try harder. Go Beth!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Sandra, I'm amazed by the concept of a pet word of the day. LOL We are doomed!

Janet

Marianne Barkman said...

I've been MIA and AWOL! Sorry. I got me a puppy. Now 5 months old...and I've been dealing with personal matters but I think I've got a handle on those. I've been reading. So glad to be here with you, and a great article, Janet. Another thing to watch for when I reading to review!

Janet Dean said...

Sandra, you're observant. I used my Scrabble game to make words, took their pictures and uploaded them to the post. Fun to do and cheap, too. :-)

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Jill, my characters sigh so much they depress me. LOL Good that we know our weaknesses and can forbid those sneaky sighs trying to creep into our prose.

Janet

Myra Johnson said...

Really, really fun post, Janet--and so spot-on!

My pet words? My characters gaze a lot, too. And smile, swallow, nod, and shrug. I have also become paranoid about "just" and "back." For a while, I was using "utterly" all the time.

What works best for finding my overused words is to sit down with the complete manuscript and read through it over 2-3 days. That way, not only do I get the big picture for refining plot and characterization elements, but I become more aware of repetitious word choices.

Pass me a gazed doughnut, please!

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, and sighing, too! Forgot that one!

Janet Dean said...

Hi, Jackie Smith. Monday is a great day to laugh at oneself. Thanks for playing with us in Seekerville. We love readers!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi, Hallee. You make an excellent point. Tweaks can be simple. Sometimes I merely delete a reaction.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Carolyn A. The problem is all these action words that involve sight can be overused, especially if we're visual people. Now I want to sigh. :-(

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hello, Heidi. There's no end to the places we can overuse words. In my personal writing, I favor "so." I'm so sorry. So glad. So sure. LOL

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Marianne, glad you're back and reading again. Hope you're having fun with your puppy. How's the training coming?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Myra, thanks for your suggestion to read manuscripts in hard copy. We often can see what we missed far better than just reading on the screen. Nice to see that most writers struggle with pet words.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

More LaVyrle examples:

His mouth twisted in a sardonic smirk. Some might prefer just smirk but somehow I can see this better.

His voice rumbled soft and gruff and very, very bass, like thunder from the next county.

The white strip near his hairline turned brilliant red and he lunged to his feet, the chair scraping back on the bare wood floor as he pointed a long, thick finger at her nose.

I like these longer looks at actions/reactions. What do you think?

Janet

Sandy Smith said...

What a great post, Janet. I skimmed through the comments and I would say I have the same pet words as everyone here. I think my worst is "looked." I know that much of the time it isn't necessary to point out where people are looking. Simply rewriting the scenes can eliminate the need for a lot of pet words. Thanks for helping us out with this!

Please enter me for the gift card!

Wilani Wahl said...

This is definitely something to remember. I am not sure what my pet words are yet, but will be watching for them and changing them.

Have a great week everyone!

Please enter me for the gift card!

Donna said...

Janet, I will keep this post close while writing. Sometimes (a lot of the time) I get stumped while trying to reword a phrase or action.

One thing that bothers me is if someone is blushing on every page. Even if it is described as turning red or heat rising from her toes. : (

I was wondering if pet words need to be removed from dialogue. Not like Ruthy mentioned as a particular pet word of a character but in general.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Yes, JANET, I'm so impressed with you taking your own pictures. I do that not so much as to save money but to be sure I have the copyrights to use it. chuckle. oops better find another word.

Sandra Leesmith said...

MARIANNE, so good to hear from you again. Yay. And I do know what a job a puppy is. Will you bring your puppy to Arizona next winter? I love puppies even though they are a handful. What kind of puppy is it?

Am praying your personal matters are not too major and going well.

Helen Gray said...

Mary Hicks,
DELIGHTED that you enjoyed Ozark Sweetheart.

Deanne said...

Good afternoon Seekerville family.
I get so frustrated reading a (name unsaid)very popular author who uses the same expression to describe an action taking place. How about being a little more descriptive to describe this action. I am a prolific reader so I do enjoy reading a variety of great descriptions by the great authors I read .
My 4 cats love to help me turn pages and knock my books on the ground when they are all stacked up. I think they are trying to terllme to read faster. My cats are always sitting on my lap as I read, just not all 4 at once, lol. Please enter me for the giveaway drawing. Thank you

Deanne Patterson
Cnnamongirl at aol dot com

Meghan Carver said...

"The eyes are the lamp of the body." (Matthew 6:22) Is that why we like "gaze" so much? So much emotion, or lack thereof, can be conveyed through the eyes. It's a tough word to change, but you gave some great suggestions, Janet. Thank you!

Sherida Stewart said...

Your post is great, Janet. :) And "great" is one of my overused words, along with so, smile, gaze, perfect, and may more. Using the "find" word search has helped, but I need to make a list for my self-editing. Thanks for getting the list started. Loved the before/after examples, which really help.

Current favorite pet? My granddog, Gumshoe, a cute Sheltie, who does "notice everything" on a walk.

Thanks for the clever snacks and for the chance to win Amazon dollars.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Sandy S. So true. We don't always have to show where our characters are looking, but where and how they look conveys information to the reader. Probably the reason look, gaze and eyes are pet words for many of us.

We can say: He nailed her with his gaze. Stronger than saying he looked at her with anger in his eyes. But we can only do that once as it's one of those word choices readers remember and don't want repeated.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Wilani Wahl. We writers are permitted to overuse words in our rough drafts. As we rework and polish our prose, we will notice and start to get rid of our pet words.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Donna, I give my characters a bit more freedom when they speak, but when I try to keep their dialogue interesting, vivid, unique to them and to the moment they're in, I'm less apt to reuse pet words.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Sandra, I use my own pictures when I can, but when I can't, I buy images so I have no fear of copyright infringement.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Deanne, when you read the same author a lot, you're more apt to notice the reuse of descriptions that probably come off her fingertips at the speed of sound. :-)

Love the image I'm conjuring up of your four kitties clamoring to sit in your lap as you read. Hope they're purring with delight at the fresh word choice. ;-)

Janet

Jan Drexler said...

You've nailed it, Janet.

I have some pet words that insist on being included in every scene. "Turned" is a biggie. "Nodded" is another (you called me out on that one in the critique you gave me a couple years ago!).

I try not to have my heroines bite their lips too much, but that slips in without me noticing way too often!

Thanks for the post! Your timing is perfect - I'm in the middle of revising my WIP this week :)

bonton said...

Thanks for an interesting post, Janet!!

I'll be on the alert for any pet words in the reviews I write.


Please enter my name in the drawing for the gift card giveaway - I'd love to buy another book or two, regardless of pet words!!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Meghan. I think you're exactly right as to why we love to use eyes when describing our characters. Eyes convey emotion and are the first thing I notice. The hard part is describing the eyes in ways that are fresh.

What do you notice first when you meet someone?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hello, Sherida. Love your grand dog's name. Gumshoe surely has his nose to the ground as he explores every tree and blade of grass on his walks. Pet owners understand why giving too many unimportant details is called "walking the dog."

I've known one sheltie. She was well-behaved, smart and friendly, but if necessary she could be protective. The only negative was all that hair she shed.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jan, it's far easier to spot the pet words in others' writing than in our own. It's a constant battle for me. Hope the revisions go well!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Bonton, like you, I will always want to read!

Janet

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

I did a line edit on one of your lines. I now feel like a smart young grad student!

"Your kind words encourage me, but I battle this repetitiveness with every book."

BTW: I was at the eye doctor all morning making my Kindle type bigger and bigger as my eyes dilated and I read these lines from Mary's, "Now and Forever", which were made for today's topice:

"Shannon smiled, but he didn’t see any dimples. He already knew the difference in her smiles. No dimples, no real joy. She was worried and facing unknown danger. And considering he was next to useless, he didn’t blame her for wishing she had a little more help."

And then a few pages later:

“And,” Shannon said, smiling, and this time there were dimples— causing all sorts of unruly problems for Tucker, “we don’t need to tote much coal if this whole place has it. We’ll just pick up more as we run low.”

This is so brilliant it makes me want to give up writing altogether!!!

Vince

P.S.I intend to write that author who repeated two identical paragraphs in different scenes in her book today so she can make a revision to her Kindle book. Her indy books are under her pen name. My wife says never to tell an author about mistakes but I think I have a duty to tell her as the story under her pen name will be released next month. Would you want to know?

Janet Dean said...

Hi Vince,

Thanks for revising my comment to express what I intended.

I also love Mary's description of Shannon's smile, though I'm giving Tucker credit. He's so smitten that he notices the endearing details about Shannon. He is a fabulous hero.

If I can fix the mistake, I'd definitely want to know. Otherwise probably not.

Janet

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Marianne Barkman, I've missed you like crazy!!!!! I thought you were just too busy up north, but a puppy!!!!

OH SEND US PICTURES!!!!! loganherne @ gmail.com

I will love your puppy!!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Janet, you have all the same pet words I do!!! Plus, I overuse "suddenly." I always have to take out some suddenly's when I'm revising. Sometimes my characters "narrowed his/her eyes" left and right, and they also cry a lot, but that's mostly my heroines. Hey, I'm a crier, so I can't help it. My old editor used to make me take out a lot of tears. I've noticed my new editor doesn't, so I try to cut at least some of the tears myself.
Great post, Janet! And yes, I do way more telling than I should, probably. But it's so much easier to say "she felt dizzy" than to spin the room or make her vision swim or her knees wobble. So shoot me. I like things simple. :-)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Janet, I love the way LaVyrle turns a phrase, but I bet you most of those would be simplified in New York...

Debby Giusti said...

Janet, such a fun blog. Loved reading the comments too. I'm guilty of all of the above.

Also, Vince's "padding" comment probably applies to me. My characters have been know to "pad." Evidently they over-padded in one of my books! Sorry, Vince! :(

Hubby bulks when my heroine "worries her fingers." But I did check the usage and it works. Still one can only "worry fingers" once/book.

Like Sandra, I often have a "phrase of the day" that keeps popping up over and over again. If I liked it the first time, why not use it again? Of course, that can drive a reader crazy! Hopefully I catch the repeats...or an editor does. Thank goodness for editors!

Sarah Claucherty said...

I've been studying the books I read for particular elements (good and bad) and paying attention to the craft since I don't have much time right now to actually write for myself, so this post was perfect for my current purposes! Thanks Janet!

Melanie and a few others mentioned editing their pet words/phrases/actions/etc., and I'm remembering the caution of using few or no "-ly" words. I've been studying my reads as I go, and it's amazing how those adverbs aren't even missed in the story. Great "show, don't tell" examples!

My pets are those pesky extra words and adverbs!

Please add my name to today's drawing!

Mary Connealy said...

turnedovers? Grinola?
LOL
Perfect! A pet word food!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

I'm getting pretty good at deleting 'that, very and just.'
But you're right, we throw out common ones and invent our own.
The one I struggle with is 'clearly'.

I use it when I am in the wrong pov and want the reader to know what the non-POV character is thinking. Yes, it's a MIND READERS WORD.

She was clearly trying to get him to shut up.
He was clearly unhappy with her.

Very simple and not a bad word..........unless you use it a dozen times! PER CHAPTER!

Julie Lessman said...

LOL, JANET ... this was a hoot ... or maybe I should say a "howl," since we're talking "pets." ;) LOVE the title and LOVE the blog!

Gosh, I find pet words in every single book I write and I read, no matter the author, so it's a very common problem that we don't always think about. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Janet, especially now as I edit my next book!! :)

I have a pet phrase every book, but some of my faves were "malaise," which I used so many times in one book that my beta reader said she was in a malaise ... ;)

Another fave was "prostrate," which Keith told me appeared so often in one of my books that he had the sudden urge to see a urologist. :)

Sigh. This is where a copy editor comes in handy, isn't it??

"Hope you enjoy the buffet of turnedovers, gazed donuts and grinola. The breakfast of Champion Over-users!"

LOL ... tooooo cute!!

Hugs!!
Julie

Mary Connealy said...

Melissa I really overdo the shrug and the glare. Of course I'm trying to do non-verbal communication. Trying to SHOW not tell.
But we can corner ourselves if we go to far with these pet words.

Mary Connealy said...

I love the term, He squared his shoulders.
or maybe. He lifted his chin and squared his shoulders.
I think it's a very descriptive way of saying someone is getting tough, or planning to keep going and bear whatever is necessary.
So well, I have characters that need to do that ALL THE TIME!!!!!!

So I need to beware!

Mary Connealy said...

I'm reading these comments SO CAREFULLY. I need to learn every overused word or phrase out there then go on a search and destroy mission in my manuscript.

Lyndee H said...

OH JANET! A POM! Love the photo. Wanna hug the little critter.

I fall into the pet word pit big time, but each book has its own pet word problems. This last MS I found characters 'pushing air from their lungs' - described numerous ways, but the same reaction over and over! (Did you hear that? I just sighed,too).

And,as DEBBY says, I have phrases of the day. Mine also get repeated deep in future chapters, too. UGH. When I read the MS, I start questioning if I'm just too familiar with the section or if it's a repeat. Like MARY, I go on a destroy mission. Liberation!

Thanks for the reminders and great post!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Melanie. I promise I won't shoot you. Now Mary.... LOL

Seriously, we all have our writing styles and your success says you're doing just fine. Isn't it interesting how different editors in the same publishing house can be?

My heroines eyes sting but they rarely weep. I'm not a crier so maybe that's why. Though I read craft advice that claimed if our characters cried, our readers won't have to. I question that.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, you could be right, but I still love her prose.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Debby, I love editors! They catch what I don't see. Sometimes when I read my published book I wish they were harder on me. LOL

I think some gnome or sprite takes over our hands and types these repetitive words and phrases. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Talk about clichés. LOL

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good afternoon, Sarah. Reading good books is an excellent way to learn craft.

You gave me a perfect adjective for my post--pesky. Pesky pet words.

Though I do use adverbs upon occasion, I can barely type them without thinking long and hard about using them. Maybe one day I'll get to the place where I can't type pesky words.

Janet

Debby Giusti said...

Some years back, a cp warned me about using "suddenly." She was so adamant that I haven't used it since...at least, I don't think I have. Yet there are times when "suddenly" would work nicely, still I refuse to include it in my stories. Funny, huh? Especially since there are other words that I use ad nauseam. As many have mentioned, my characters gaze far too often. They turn, they glance, they often shrug, they square their shoulders, they blink back tears. Yikes! I need help.

Janet Dean said...

Oh, Mary, I'm laughing. I also love clearly and for the exact same reason. Now I have a name for clearly, the Mind Reader's word. Thank you! The word is great. We can't blame a word for our overusing it.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Julie, I'm howling at what you said:

Another fave was "prostrate," which Keith told me appeared so often in one of my books that he had the sudden urge to see a urologist. :)

So cute!!! Though your dh can skip the exam unless you drop that extra "r" and prostrate becomes prostate.

Seekerville is so much fun!!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Mary, I have an image of being corned by our pet words. Their tongues are out, licking us to death and we deserve it. Unless they're the savage wolf kind of animal who goes for the juggler. We never deserve that.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Lyndee. I hear you, girlfriend. My characters push air out of their lungs as they sigh or suck air into their lungs as they gasp. Sometimes the air is trapped in their lungs and know it or not, they're facing their demise if it stays trapped.

I'm giddy to know most of us are card-carrying over users. Misery loves company.

Janet

CatMom said...

Loved this, Janet - - and needed it too!
I'm so guilty of using my pet words way too often (JUST, SO, and CHUCKLED were some that I had to work on reducing).

Since you mentioned sharing our pets too, I must say that my kitties are great writing companions for me. :) I always have at least two or three of them curled up nearby as I'm writing. Of course, sometimes seeing them napping entices me to nap too, LOL. ;)

Thanks so much (see? There's that word SO again, haha) for sharing this post.
Hugs, Patti Jo

Kathryn Barker said...

Janet, such a fun post for Monday morning. Giggling (smiling too-but please don't slap this happy gal)...your breakfast is to die for...well, wait...I mean Yummy-Funny!!

Gazed, smiled and then.... are some of my fav's! It's like a little dance. Gazed, smiled, and then...cha, cha, cha!! Thank goodness for FIND!!

Makes me feel good to know most of you struggle with sweet pets too! I must be in Great Company!!

Janet Dean said...

Debby, I, too, am careful with using suddenly. Other words I try to avoid are started and headed. If this list keeps growing, I won't be able to write anything without cringing. :-0

Janet

Vince said...

Hi Debby:

I'm not sure you were the 'padding' author or not. But I learned something new.

Definition of pad by Merriam-Webster:

"to go on foot : walk; especially : to walk with or as if with padded feet -- the dog padded along beside him -- padding around in bedroom slippers."


I have to go back and reread this. 'Padding' just might have been the perfect word to use. I just never heard it before that I can remember. It's like 'watch' cap.

I may learn more by reading your books than anyone elses!
That's a good thing.
Smile : ).
Raise up the corners of you mouth. (woops, cliché!)

Vince

Janet Dean said...

Hi Patti Jo, what other writing companion could fit our CatMom? I picture you with your kitties and a bowls of peaches and cream. Separate bowls. The cream for the cats. The peaches for you. I'm SO glad you stopped in.

Janet

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

About being told of mistakes in your book, you wrote:

" If I can fix the mistake, I'd definitely want to know. Otherwise probably not.

That's my general rule as well. However, what if it is a mistake that will likely be made in future books? Would you want to know it then?

Nevertheless, I think you are right. I've seen some major mistakes in books, some that even made the plot impossible, and since it could not be changed and would not likely ever be used in future books, I didn't mentioned it to the author or to anyone else.

In my current case there is time to fix it so I wrote the author and if she gets upset, well, she can just join all the others at the end of the line. : )

Idea: If your story is on Kindle, you can put in a word search and within seconds see every place in your book that that word appears and a few lines of context as well.

Also, even if you compiled your book yourself, as with Scrivener, you can do the same thing with a WIP. I just tested my Kindle version WIP of "Rewards Per Page" and I used 'rewards' 188 times. Wow! A good thing it is not fiction! That index took about one second to appear on my Kindle screen.

Vince

Janet Dean said...

Kathryn, you are in Great Company here in Seekerville! I promise not to slap you. I can barely slap my characters.

Feeling the rhythm of your dance: Gazed, smiled, and then...cha, cha, cha!! Who needs Arthur Murray?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Vince,

Love that Debby taught you that padding and padded are great words. Books can teach us plenty.

Thanks for turning up the corners of your mouth and getting into the pet words and phrases game. I suspect I'll win!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Vince, I haven't used my Kindle to read my WIP. How do you do that? Others may also want to know.

Janet

Bettie said...

I'm grinning with chagrin at the pet words that keep barking at me. I've missed you all...been on a beautiful Alaskan cruse with the Gaither vocal band.. Now it's back to work and trying to find time to write. Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks for the informative article.

Rachael Koppendrayer said...

I use smile and grin WAY too much, since any situation where I personally would smile, my characters do too, which makes me suspect I smile way too often, given how ridiculously often it looks on paper. Thus we all smile in greeting, as a response, to temper sarcasm, when someone says something and we weren't paying attention, and on and on. Maybe my characters need to be less polite and more cranky.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Bettie. Welcome back! Must be hard to come back to earth after a lovely Alaskan cruise with the Gaithers. Wow! You and Ruthy will have to compare notes on the scenery. Hope you soon are settled into your routine.

Janet

Kav said...

Oh, this is priceless!!!! I use just and that waaaayyyy too much. And everyone's gazing all the time. Makes it seem like they're all staring into space. LOL This is a keeper post for sure. Thanks, Janet.

Jeanne T said...

Oh my, it's been a day. This is the first chance I've had to sit and read anything today. :) Loved this post, and I'm so glad I stopped by. Yes, Gaze and Smile, and Just and Back and other such words are pet words of mine. I loved Myra's suggestions and your examples of how you got rid of some of your pet words. I can't wait to try it in my revisions!

Chill N said...

At one time I had so many pet words the list was really impressive. I've managed to chip away at it ... and add to it :-) I don't think anyone has mentioned 'walk'? That was a huge pet word for me. I finally found some lists that give me alternatives like stalked, sashayed, hurried, strolled, etc.

Melissa's 'Weasel Word' list from a couple of years ago helped a lot in spotting some of my pet words. Melissa's Weasel Word list

So much good info. Thanks Janet -- and everyone who shared pet words I need to check for now :-)
Nancy C

Janet Dean said...

Hi Kav,

Yep, we all do it. But that doesn't mean we can't ferret out the repetitive actions and replace with something better.

I'm tickled when someone calls my post a keeper. Thank you!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good evening, Jeanne T! Life gets pretty hectic. We need to cut ourselves some slack and rejoice that no matter what responsibilities we carry, we're writers. Have fun tracking down your pet words. Put a collar on those puppies that'll keep them in your invisible fenced back yard!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good evening, Nancy C. Thanks for sharing a fantastic post to help us writers get a "handle" on the beasties. We will overcome!

Janet

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Julie, I loved your comment on the frequency of the word "prostrate" in your story and your hubby's reaction to it. Seekerville is so much fun. For a long time I would pronounce the word "prostate" as "prostrate." Hubby alerted me to my error. So when I went with him to his urologist I didn't made that error. Janet, your response to these two words made me remember and laugh.

Wonderful post, Janet. I enjoyed the pics of pets and learning about some of the pet peeves here. I'm thankful for search and find for removing and replacing my many repetitive and tiresome pet words. I found "that" six times in one paragraph. By leaving in one "that" I had a less boring paragraph. In my novels I'm guilty of too much stomach cramping or churning, leaned forward or leaned over, eyes widened, hand recoiled, furrowed brow, twirled around, swallowed hard, etc.

Julie Lessman said...

LOL, JANET and PAT JEANNE DAVIS ... glad my hubby's comment made you laugh. It made me laugh, too, which is why I remember it so well. And trust me, I don't remember much! ;)

Hugs,
Julie

DebH said...

Sign me up for the over-users buffet. Those are my pet words as well as just, that, anomy characters tend to snort and huff too much. Must have sinus issues...

Loved this post. It's a great reminder to check for those pesky pet words. Please put my name in the draw for today. Now, to go look for my manuscript pets...

Janet Dean said...

Oh, Pat, you've added some great pets to our list! I overuse all the words you mention, especially the churning stomachs. Fun to commiserate with each other here in Seekerville.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Julie, I'm sure all the laughing we've done has extended our lives a day or two. Thanks again!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Deb H, good thing I wasn't drinking coffee when I read that your characters must have sinus issues. I would've spewed it all over my keyboard!

We need a fulltime doc here in Seekerville to fix our characters' cramping stomachs, clogged sinuses and throats, catatonic stares and more tics than I care to mention THAT are JUST making their poor lives miserable.

Janet

Kelly Blackwell @ Heres My Take On It said...

Oh Janet! You are brilliant! You have given me a whole new way to look at my faves. This is pinning perfection. Thank you so much. I like the idea of doing a find for those words too.

Dropping in after coffee and donuts and before chicken dinner here. :)

Please drop my name into the drawing.

Rhonda Starnes said...

Janet, my weasel words are THAT, JUST, and GAZED. Doing a search for these words after I complete a WIP has become a natural part of my editing process. I'm sure there are others, but these three are the ones I'm most aware of. Thanks for the wonderful post! I'm going to go search for some of the other words now.

Tanya Agler said...

Janet, thanks for the post. Until Tina pointed out my fondness of stomach, I didn't even realize that was my weasel word of choice. This WIP it seems to be breaths. I loved some of the ways you demonstrated how to show, not tell. I never thought of describing the room or how the legs lurched. Great advice, and a huge thank you.

Deanne said...

Janet, I commented earlier but I had to comment again . I just started " An Inconvenient Match " today. It's my first book by you and I'm just a few chapters in but I'm loving it so far . Thank you for writing such a wonderful book that enjoying so much !
Deanne Patterson
cnnamongirl at aol dot com

Natalie Monk said...

I overused the word "looked" and "grinned" and "walked." Oh, and "think," too.

Then there was this problem where I had everyone stopping and standing in doorways. When I got to the editing stage, I created a file and pasted all the words that gave me trouble so I'll have them available next time around. I've heard several times the pet words are different in each book, but maybe I can eliminate some that way.

Great post, Janet!

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

I had my WIP in Scrivener and I used the compile menu with about two to three choices and it complied the book. I then loaded it into my Kindle using the USB cable and it worked the first time. Scrivener also can compile into other ebook formats. I believe that Amazon has a complier you can also use but I have not done it. There are also services that compile ebooks books for you.

It's great to be able to have your WIP on Kindle because it looks exactly like a published book. You should try it. I think you'll love it.

Vince

Missy Tippens said...

I'm sorry I missed the fun today!! I was out almost all day. I actually started out at the doctor where I read your fun post (so good!). But I never got the chance to answer.

Mary Preston said...

This was so much fun to read through thank you.

Edwina Cowgill said...

You caught me red-handed! Too many pet words to list - but I guess the most overused one would be "that."

Thanks for a great article!

Suzanne Baginskie said...

Great post. I cringe when I find a 'just' in my manuscript. But don't forget 'get or maybe' there are several others on a list by my computer to avoid. Funny how they come out on a page when your composing fast. But that is what rewriting is for. I enjoy your books.

Suzanne Baginskie said...

I found that sending my novel to the iPad on the Word program I installed is easier to read and see those kind of words I need to remove.

Suzanne Baginskie said...

Thanks for breakfast. Have a great day. Keep those best sellers coming.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Kelly B! Glad the post was helpful. There's still grinola on the buffet for breakfast. A happy way to start the day!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Rhonda, great job ferreting out your weasel words! Awareness is the key. We are clever at creating more.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Tanya. I've overused breaths, stomachs and guts. Writing fresh is tough! Glad the post helped.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Deanne, thank you for taking the time to read Inconvenient Match. Hope you enjoy it to the ending.

A great place to get the feel for books is on Amazon where the publisher gives a short excerpt of the opening. It's also a teaching tool on how published writers open their books with hooks and the first meeting of the hero and heroine.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Natalie. Good for you! You've got to be aware of the pet words before you can eliminate them and rewrite. You're a hard worker!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Vince,

Thanks for the explanation. I don't work in Scrivener, but may look into an app for Amazon. I'd love to see my WIP in book form!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Missy, thanks for stopping in! There are just busy days like yours. We can't do it all!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Thanks for stopping in Mary Preston!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Edwina, That is a huge offender. We do need some for the sentence to flow or make sense. But fortunately for us overusers, most that's can be deleted.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Suzanne, thanks for your kind words about my books!

I didn't know about this Word program that enables us to send our books to our iPads. Hope I can find it.

Thanks!
Janet

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Pawsitively GRINNING toothily as I gaze at the screen.

Oh MY!
So many examples you stole from my work... ;)
Oh.
Wait.

Seriously - thank you, and for the remedies as well.

Sure appreciate your expertise shared!!!

Thanks Janet!

Davalyn Spencer said...

Up. That's my word. You'd be amazed how many times I come up with that word.

Janet Dean said...

KC, your comment made me smile. Thanks! Sounds like all writers struggle with the easy to write overused words.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Davalyn, looked up, got up, raised up, hung up, fed up, turned up. LOL I can see the potential for overuse.

Janet

flipflopprincess said...

I keep coming back to this post, it's hilarious! thank you for sharing this! I'm not a writer but I overuse the word "just"..and if it's possible, I also over punctuate. too many (!!!) and (...) but that's how my mind works, lots of excited thoughts or trailing thoughts.lol

Lea

The Artist Librarian said...

"That" is definitely one of my overused words --I blame memorizing Bible verses in the New King James Version since 2nd grade for that one. ;-)

As a reader, I can't think of any authors off the top of my head that irked me with word overuse. =)