Thursday, January 17, 2008

Weeding Words

Over at Storytelling, Rosina Lippi has an interesting post about descriptive words overused by writers. I'm probably guilty of a whole list of those (off the top of my head: whole, great, terrific, probably and wonderful.)

I tend to notice more the object words I overuse. Like my obsession with doors. If I'm not careful, a door will sprout up like crab grass every couple of pages in my story. As will bodies of water, quilts, window sills, paintings or art of some kind, kitchen tables and (lately) flower arrangements. But mostly I'm plagued by doors.

I can't say exactly why my subconscious keeps trying to add these weed words to every scene. I like doors because they are a focal point in any room and part of the setting that actually does something. Bodies of water, well, I'm a girl who grew up near some of the nicest beaches in the country; that likely has something to do with it. I use window sill imagery in a lot of my poetry, that's a cross-over weed word. The rest are just things I find comforting, I guess.

I always spot my weed words after the book is published, but not always before. During the editing phase I try to remember to weed them out with Word's find and replace tool, but even then I'm a bit blind to them or forget to look for them. You can tell when I've rushed too much on editing one of my novels because of the thirty or more door references in the story.

I used to have a weed words list, but last year I filed it away in a place where I wouldn't forget it and have since forgot where that is. I think I'll make a new one and pin it to the wall or something. You writers out there, what are some of your weed words? How do you all deal with keeping them from spreading from scene to scene?


  1. Anonymous1:00 AM

    heh, I know what you mean. Its funny how you can be writing something and the typing or whatever is moving right along, and then its finished. You read it over only to find that you used the word 'however' or 'completely' or, in your case, 'door' twenty or thirty times. I can't even tell you how many files I've deleted almost as soon as I finished writing them just because I couldn't figure out how to fix it...

  2. Anonymous5:18 AM

    (Redheaded) goth chicks tend to people my stories to a point where it gets if not embarassing, so at least it becomes crowded.

    Not a weed word, per se, but a weed idea.

    I tend to overuse the "thought-dash" a lot, as well.

  3. I'm sure a psychologist would have something interesting to say about your unconscious fixation on doors.

    Lately, I've noticed my heroines are poking people a lot. Latent anger-management issues!

  4. Funny, I read another article about images that crop up repeatedly in writing and I couldn't think of any that came up in mine. Will have to be on the lookout for this.

  5. Grinning. My characters grin so ofter I want to hit them in the face with a hammer.

  6. I'm cringing as I admit this but I just found several "rolling eyeballs" in a manuscript. Enough to bowl a couple of strings.

  7. I tend to talk a lot about lighting fixtures, and how much light is in a given space, and the quality of that light, and where and how shadows lie. I assume it's because I'm so sensitive to changes in light, indoors and out. It's usually the first thing I notice, no matter where I am.

    The protag of my current WIP is nearly blind, and bright light causes him intense pain. So most of what happens in the book takes place in darkened rooms or outside at night. I get to talk about light and changes in light a lot, because that's also what he notices first. It feels like indulging a bad habit, but with no attendant guilt. :)

  8. Hummm, I have several redheaded gals, too. What's up with that?

    I also have a thing for French doors, balconies, and wisteria. Then there's my ongoing love affair with the word 'realized'. I searched on realized and found it so many times that I'm not willing to fess up the number.

  9. Awash. Things are always awash in my writing. The terrace was awash in moonlight. The garden awash in morning's golden light.

    Often I need someone else to point out the weed words. (LOVE calling them weed words. I'm so borrowing that.)

  10. Anonymous10:01 AM

    There are "weed" words, and then there are "weasel" words. The latter are words like somewhat and almost. I use them when I'm not saying what I really mean to say.

    There has been a pregnant woman in the last three books I wrote, usually the protagonist's BFF or sister. I don't know if it is because I'm a mom, or because every novel feels like a new beginning and therefore ought to have new life in it.

  11. I love guys in sweaters, so all my men tend to wear sweaters. It's gotten to the point wherein my husband will send me emails while he's reading stating, "Another sweater sighting." I've started to try to change it up. You know: give them a fleece pullover or a leather jacket here or there.

    My other big overuse term is, "Stop it." My characters read emotion through skin-to-skin contact. So every time they anticipate a "thought," the chick says, "Stop it." I need to stop it.

  12. Anonymous10:39 AM

    murmur. i murmur too much.

    I have a bad problem with dialogue tags but I'm trying to work on it

  13. Back. She turned back, they went back. It's almost like I'm trying to write forward with my characters going in reverse.

  14. My characters turn way too much. They shouldn't be able to stand halfway through the novel because they'd be so friggin dizzy from turning so much!

    It's my over compensation for avoiding excessive dialogue tags. I try to keep the characters moving instead. For some reason, that means they turn to each other, turn away from each other, turn toward the window, turn toward the door . . . they twirl they way through a conversation.

    I have a couple of readers who are awesome at catching my weed words, though, so that is helpful. One reader makes a list of them and reads them out during our critique. So I have a list growing.

    Turn is at the top.

  15. I've got too many doors and turning too! I'm glad to hear others suffer the same affliction!

  16. Anonymous2:56 PM

    I've noticed lately that I have a tone-of-voice fixation; I'm always specifying what kind of tone my characters are speaking in, and noting every time it changes. It's probably because in real life I have a hard time getting things to come across in the right tone of voice, so in my fiction I'm subconsciously trying to make sure it's crystal clear.

    Also, my love interests are constantly smiling. It's nice that they're so cheerful, but it does get kind of repetitive.

    My characters also tend to look down a lot. They keep looking at the ground, or the floor, or their feet... It's amazing that they can see where they're going.

    And the word "just" showed up eight hundred times in one of my first drafts.

  17. OR

    ...this isn't spam...

    You could download and use Christopher Park's FREE Manuscript Analyser to help you find your weed words.

    It's a pretty cool little utility.

    Couldn't be easier to use.

  18. What happens to me is I start searching for a particular word in my ms. As the search continues, and the word pops up again and again and again, I start thinking, "my, I use this word A LOT."

    Yes, I'm nuts.

  19. Anonymous4:56 PM

    My writing today reminded me of another "weed idea" of mine - footsteps. The sound of footsteps would show up several times in all my novels if I let it.

  20. I used to have a lot of doors, because someone leaving or arriving seemed a logical place to start or end a scene. So, every scene inside had at least one entry/exit. Now I try to start/end the scene where the relevant action starts/ends, and bye-bye doors. Mostly.

    Windows & fireplaces are harder to deal with. They are focal points in a room, after all :\

  21. I abuse semi-colons; really abuse them.

    I'm also guilty of 'look' and 'turn'. Lots of looking away, around, down, up, in and out; turning, too.

    I try to get around the semi-colon issue by writing short, sharp sentences in dramatic scenes, and rewriting the longer ones. 'Look' and 'turn', however, need deeper thought.

  22. Lynn -

    Characters with names beginning with "M" creep into my stories way too often. "Mayhap" and "hence" are apparently my favorite words...


  23. Oh, let's see. Weed words that pop in practically every manuscript. Practically. Absolutely. Looooots of smirking going on. "Good grief!" or "Seriously, guys."

    Food; man, do I overdescribe food. Probably because I love to cook, and everyone knows that presentation is 90% of what makes people try something new. If it looks good, it probably tastes good.

    Sighing. I've said before that my characters sigh so much they ought to pass out from lack of oxygen. Who knew I wrote Greek tragedies??

    Hand motions. Fiddling with a coffee cup or plucking at a shirt hem or picking at fingernails or scratching a chin or twisting a strand of hair. I don't use dialogue tags, either, so these tend to evoke the character's state of mind in their place, but I am apparently obsessed with hand movement. I do notice it a lot in real life conversations, so maybe that's why they slip in. Hm.

    I trim most of these out, but sometimes I don't even notice them. Luckily, readers either notice them and point them out or completely ignore them, which kind of guides me to which ones I can leave. Guh. Weed words. Evil little weed words. Gah!

    As. I'll say "as" instead of "since" or "because" because "since" annoys me for some reason. "He decided to ride, as walking was beneath him." That kind of thing. And most of the time, that one's not even grammatically correct!

  24. My characters always seem to be gagging or retching. In every book I've written at least one character if not more have gagged or retched somewhere in the story. LOL

  25. I'm a weasel. My prose weasels all over the place. A bit here. A little there. All kinds of words that say, "Maybe I'm wrong here."

    When revising, or if I catch it while writing, I remind myself it's my book. Whatever I say is, is. I don't have to allow that I could be wrong. I see it as indicative of a confidence problem.

    bran fan, I think the presence of a pregnant woman in each of your works could be a good thing. Similar to a branding for your work. Your readers will come to expect it and be disappointed if they don't find the pregnant woman -- it could be fun if the woman always have a different role to play. Fans will be able to speculate for the future.

  26. OMG....I have a delicate female body part that's a definite weed word. Along with While, then, which, & because. I know I know...I'm talking serious abuse here. OMG and Smiling! YAK! I must have the happiest characters EVAH!

  27. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Redheaded women keep turning up in my writing as well, plus I have a horrible tendency to give a lavish description of the precise shade: maghogany, auburn, deep copper, scarlet, gingerbread, pale strawberry blonde... In fact, I'm obsessed with hair colour and style in general. One of the first things I usually note about a character is their hair - and the colour of their clothes.

    I'm also obsessed with describing what people are looking at or how they're using their eyes. I particularly abuse the word "gaze".

    Oh and the verb "thought" creeps up way, way too much.

  28. For me it's suddenly. I swear to God, everything happens suddenly. It's like I have no other word for transition when the action's going fast and furious.

    I did a count when I finally noticed it, and I had 137 suddenlys (suddenlies?) in my 135 page manuscript.

    Suddenly the word's not sounding so nice any more. :P

  29. I thought, "Sister!" when I read this post. (Strongly enough to make me delurk.) Doors punctuate my writing, too. Also, windows. If I'm not careful, sunlight ia forever streaming in through windows and illuminating the hair / faces / neck ornaments of my characters. Who are, of course, watched by other characters, who are just coming in the door.



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