Posted by: Kathleen Mix | December 4, 2014

Favorite Words

Like most writers, I have a few favorite words that I use too often. If you’ve ever heard a cracked 45 or 33 rpm record with the needle bouncing over the break and the same lyric replaying endlessly, you’ll know exactly what I mean. My brain seems to get stuck and replays the same words over and over and over.
The reuse of common words is boring. The reuse of odd or unusual words can be jarring to a reader. Strong words can be weakened by repetition, and a word that sounds clever once may be bland if used again in the same book. In every case, the reused words need to go.
The cure for favorite word overuse should be simple. Identify the repeated word or words, make a conscious effort to substitute synonyms, and voila, the problem goes away. But the cure isn’t that easy. The first step, identify the repeated word, is the key.
I’m usually blind to my favorite words, plus they tend to change from manuscript to manuscript, chapter to chapter, and even day to day. A critique partner or my agent will probably be the one who says, “You know, you’ve used ______ a little too frequently.” Or worse, “Jeez, there’s a smile/frown/eyes/as/when… in every paragraph.”
Detecting favorite word overuse is one of the best arguments for showing your work to a critique partner or beta reader. Your favorites won’t be their favorites, and they’ll see your darlings for what they are: words settling in for the long run in your brain.
Take a close look at the next thing you read or write. Can you spot any favorite words?


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