Friday, April 8, 2011

Crutches, those annoying, annoying crutches

By Pamela

A few weeks ago my daughter stood before me and formulated a lame excuse as to why she couldn't complete a task I had asked her to do. Homework or bathing or picking up her mess--I don't remember what the infraction was, but I do recall my response to her: "Really," I said. And it wasn't a question as much as a snarky, drawn-out quip.

My husband quietly said behind me, "You say that a lot."

I turned and faced him. "What?"

"You say, Really, a lot ... to the kids."

I didn't realize it then but, of course, from then on, I started noticing my response every time they had an excuse for not doing what I expected of them. I'd catch myself: "Reee..." and then stop and think of a better, less smart-alecky reply. Geesh! Good thing I have a husband to politely make note of my faults! Are you as lucky?

Thankfully, I have five other "husbands" who point out my writing crutches--the fallback words, phrases and punctuations that litter a perfectly good story to excess.

I remember when I wrote my first intimate scene in a story and Kim responded with the word HAND highlighted across a few paragraphs. Good grief! Those poor characters had hands all over the place. And in a love scene, sure you'll find a lot of touching, but her pointing it out made me work on better descriptions.

Another crutch I have is the word JUST. She just opened the door ... he just finished his dinner ... in just five minutes ... A simple 'find and replace' exercise helped fix that problem. Same goes for BACK. She went back inside ... he turned back around ... they went back for their dog ...

I've also spotted overused words by performing a Wordle which can show your most-used words bigger and bolder than the others. Great tool and an arty little reminder of excess.

Kim recently pointed out to Julie the presence of quite a few ellipses in her manuscript. In turn (and certainly not in spite), Julie found an overwhelming number of '-ing' words in Kim's.

We all have words we're fond of, phrasing we cling to, comfortable sayings that make our writing unique--or so we'd like to think. But when style or voice gives way to laziness, or when obtuse punctuation causes a reader to pause when she should be moving through the passage, it's time for some serious revisions.



  1. My characters' stomachs are always flipping. Not only is that impossible, it sounds ridiculous. And yet, inevitably, it keeps happening.

    I reeeaaally enjoyed this post. ;)

  2. I declared war on the '-ing' words over the weekend. There's a lot of blood on my keyboard, but the manuscript is better for it. Thanks, Julie!

  3. LOL This is great. Sometimes I think I use "wide eyed" too much. I'm not sure yet. But now that I've noticed it, I try to use something else.

  4. HA! Thanks, Erika. I can see the stomach-flipping being a problem. I also remember being told to not use: he dropped his head in his hands OR his arm fell off the table... Those phrases, that when visualized as literal, make body parts leave the body with a splat!

    And, Kim, it's funny how one of us will spot something that two or more never noticed. Nice to have a pool of readers.

  5. in love...with ellipses...! Somebody...STOP ME...! ...! :) And...thank you, Kim!

  6. No kidding, Pamela. Once she pointed it out I saw them EVERYWHERE. Now that I know my weakness, I can do a find/replace after I finish each chapter and do battle before anyone else sees them!

  7. Wide-eyed ... not nearly as bad, to me at least, as reading someone has 'narrowed their eyes' or 'drawn their eyes' into some weird shape. I picture someone with a pencil, sketching a set of eyes on a piece of paper in front of them. Weird, methinks!

    And ellipses don't really bother me too much, Julie. They seem to just disappear on the page, back out of sight. (Notice my JUST and BACK here?)

  8. Dashes--I love dashes...

    I'm enjoying reading about others' crutches.

  9. I agree, Erika--dashes are fun. Almost all crutches are until someone points them out!

  10. Indeed most of those kind of crutches can be fun;even comforting until some thoughtful writer/reader points them out. Great post, Pamela.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...