Imagine my surprise when I was revising a manuscript for approximately the eighty billionth time (rounding to the nearest eighty billion) and discovered far too many characters with dry eyeballs, loose heads, and preoccupations with advertising their dental hygiene. Yeah, it was quite a shock. Here’s how it happened….
I was minding my own business, polishing my manuscript for submission, when I made the fateful move. I used Word’s “Find” function (CTRL+F) to hunt for stare and staring. Those two words weren’t just spicing up my manuscript. They were drying out my characters’ eyes and quite possibly giving them somewhat psychotic appearances. I mean, jeez, do characters really need to stare 60 different times in a 50,000-word story?
Delete. Revise. Administer eye drops.
Next I checked their heads. CTRL+F. Nod. Thirty-one times!?!?
Delete. Revise. Send characters to chiropractor.
I sat back and breathed a satisfied sigh. My story was tighter. Stronger. Ready for—
What’s the deal with Grandpa Willy’s teeth?
Sure, my story has a quirky step-grandpa whose default facial expression is a smile. But do I always have to tell the reader about it? How many smiles and grins can there be before someone notices a piece of spinach stuck between my character’s front teeth? (When I discovered three characters combining for five smiles on a single page, I knew I had a problem.)
Delete. Revise. Floss.
I found myself on Wordle (www.wordle.net), which highlights frequently used words by creating a “word cloud” for a section of text. The more often a word is used, the larger it appears in the cloud. I pasted in all 50,000 words of my story.
The next thing I knew, overused words and descriptions flew from my manuscript like chickens fleeing a feather-pillow factory. Good-bye then (minus 47). Adios just (minus 46). Ciao look (minus 22) and glance (minus 40).
Five days and about 12 hours of revising later, I was done. And you know that 50,000-word story I mentioned? It’s down to less than 49,000. And those words that got deleted? Haven’t missed a single one. It’s enough to make a guy smile and nod. But now I might not tell you that’s what I’m doing.
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So…any overused words or descriptions you’ve uncovered in your own writing? Any tricks you’ve found useful in dealing with them? Share your thoughts and insights below.