“Watching is just a really boring verb. If you cut it, you can almost always use a cooler verb that paints a clearer picture.”- Naomi Hughes
Crutch words, we all have them, the problem is they are different for each writer, so how do we identify them? What is a crutch word? It’s our writing tic, the words we overuse. In this post I will teach one way to identify crutch verbs and how to replace them with words readers will find more interesting.
Step 1: Identifying Crutch Verbs
My go-to word is “back.” My characters walk back, go back, look back, it’s plumb crazy, and honestly, boring. How did I identify my crutch word? I built a wordle at Tagxedo. Just click “create” then add the text of your entire novel, or go chapter by chapter, it’s up to you. Here’s a list of crutch words writers tend to repeat from Writers Helping Writers (scroll down until you find the PDF titled “Crutch Words).
This is embarrassing, but here is my wordle for my 7th draft of my work in progress. What crutch words do you see?
My stomach just did a flip flop, I’ve got a lot to work on, but it appears I have fixed my “back” problem. Now I will address the following crutch words: looked, walked, and turned.
Step 2: Replace Crutch Verbs with Active Verbs
1. Use the “find” feature on your word processor and look up one of your crutch words.
2. Refer to the Writers Helping Writers List to find another, more exciting verb and use it to replace your crutch word, see my examples below.
Example 1: Looked
“I stayed with him, watching the sun disappear from the sky and when I looked back to where he had been, he was gone and I was alone.”
“I stayed with him as the sun disappeared from the sky. After the last sliver of light sunk below the horizon, I glanced in his direction, but he was gone, and I was once again alone.”
Example 2: Walked
“Behind her walked the surfer and I felt my heart fall straight into my gut, right on top of the cheerios I had just eaten.”
“Behind her the surfer sauntered. My heart fell into my gut, right on top of the cheerios I had eaten for breakfast.”
Example 3: Turned
“We had reached my door when I turned to look at him, curious if he really meant what he was saying.”
“We had reached my door when I peeked at him, curious to see if he really meant what he was saying.”
May we all tighten our writing and make it more succinct, keeping our readers reading instead of getting hung up on overused words.