Wednesday 9 February 2011

Words that follow us like little lambs ... Let's flick them off the page! Here's how.

As an editor and a writer, I get nit picky with words that are used too often. And, believe me, I USE THEM TOO, they're common, easy to materialize, and they get the message across without much thought/effort -they do their job. Well, for the first draft, anyway. But, it's a good idea to get into the habit of highlighting them after you complete each scene/chapter, so you can immediately locate them during edits, and change the little buggers to something with more substance.

The words that follow me around like little lambs during the first draft are:

Now, I know you're going to think it's time for the thesaurus, which, I agree, is a great source to diversify your vocabulary, but ... um ... while we're on that subject, let me interrupt with a few common alternate words for the words I've listed above. I too believe we should use these sparingly. I'll show you how in a minute.
Alternate words are:
smile: grin, laugh, giggle, smirk, guffaw (I love this word)
frown: grimace, pout, sulk
sigh: exhale, breath heavily, groan, murmur

Right ... back on track. What I was planning to say here was, that there are other ways to get these kinds of actions across by describing emotional responses. Let's take a look at some quick examples I'm just going to make up on the spot here. They're not very thought out, but they get my point across:

Example One:
"I got the part!" Jon cried, smiling enthusiastically. (ooh look, I added an adverb to make it even more taboo ;o)
"I got the part!" Jon jogged on the spot with impulsive fervor.

Example Two:
"I got the part," Jon frowned.
"I got the part." Jon ran his fingers through his hair, put his hands in his pockets and shook his head at his shoes.

Example Three:
"I got the part," Jon sighed with relief.
"I got the part." Jon bent forward and let his arms swing, loose like a chimpanzee, before flopping on the couch and switching on the TV.

See how much better a picture we get of how Jon is feeling? I mean, I know, these are rough, but you do get to see how Jon's emotion is significantly clearer in all the 2nd descriptions, right?

So now it's your turn. Choose one of the following and revamp it with a detailed emotional response! Looking forward to see what you come up with! ;o)

"The cat's dead," Jon smiled.
"The cat's dead," Jon frowned.
"The cat's dead," Jon sighed.


  1. "The cat is dead." Jon's glassy eyes and monotone words stilled the room.
    Great post, and something to keep in mind for the revisions!

  2. "The cat's dead." Jon dropped to his knees and rubbed between the cat's ears one last time.

    Wonderful post, Jessica! it's so important to show through the body language, rather than tell with vague words! They're just easier!

  3. "The cat's dead," Jon wiped his hands on his jeans and began to whistle a jolly tune from the Wizard of Oz.

    Oops - am I being facetious again?

    I had a boss who insisted the word 'robust' was in almost every paragraph of every report. Everyone has their little lambs, like you say!

  4. Great post. I'm guilty of adding too many of the same word into what I write. I'm tempted to put a chapter into one of those word cloud generators to find the guilty parties easily. Here's my effort for the exercise:

    “The cat's dead.” Jon waited until her back was turned, then jumped and punched the air with silent euphoria.

  5. "The cat's dead." John's malicious grin split his face like a butcher's knife splits a melon.

    You make an excellent point here. Action, and especially action that uses uncommon verbs, is almost always better than lazy telling.

    Trouble for me is that in a novel of tens of thousands of words you can easily forget and slip back into old bad habits.

  6. "The cat's dead," Jon choked out, heading through the room and straight for a beer.

  7. Woops! Forgot to add how much your post helps. I think we all get lazy sometimes, and it's good to have a reminder to spice up our writing!

  8. Eeek! I'm always over using smile.

    "The cat's dead." John's face crumpled.

  9. I still use smile and frown, but I also work hard at using other actions to show emotions so that my characters aren't always frowning or smiling.

  10. Homework? Seriously? LoL. Okay, here goes:

    "The cat is dead." John's eyes, littered with unshed tears, darted to each of our faces.

    Well, it doesn't totally suck, I guess. ;-)


  11. I'm not putting any dead cat karma out there, but I have to snicker at Jamie's. That's just awful. Just awful... :)

  12. Now keep in mind I've just written a chapter of death...

    "The cat's dead." Jon grabbed the furball that continued to dig up his flowers and threw him in the bin. He wiped his hands as he walked into the house and slammed the door shut with his shoe.
    "The cat's dead." Jon put his hand over his mouth to hid his quivering lip.
    "The cat's dead." Jon shrugged.

  13. Okay I tried to post but blogger ate my comment. SO I will just say I'm laughing hysterically at all the cat haters out there!
    My worst words are sighs and chuckles - my first draft I just let them in, second draft they get kicked out and I work on adding more emotion etc...
    Oh it's all fun and games...sigh.
    Chuckle. Grin.

  14. "The cat's dead" John's eyes welled up, his hands shook as he gently picked up Morgan's limp remains.

    "The cat's dead" John face erupted with a huge grin, tired of letting that damn flea bag in n' out. "Good riddance Morris".

    "The cat's dead" John's brow furrowed. He feared telling his daughter. He should of taken, Fluffy, to the vet.

    Thanks Jessica, this was GREAT! Show, really does paint the picture!

  15. Great post Jessica- you really pointed out the differences, and the picture you put up with it- brilliant! LOL

    "The cats dead," Jon flung his notebooks to the ground and leaped over the couch.

  16. I don't have any of your little lambs following me, but myriad others constantly strive for my attention. (I hope to thin the herd during my rewrite.) Anyway, my contribution:

    "The cat's dead." Jon's nose wiggled in anticipation as he thought of the reception he'd get from the rest of the mice.

  17. Ugh, I hate these words. I have issues with 'just', 'looked' and countless others. Sigh.

  18. "The cat's dead." Jon frowned, his eyes lowered in respect and a small sigh escaped his lips. "But hey whats for lunch?"

    I hate homework :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  19. This is AWESOME Jessica. Blink follows me everywhere. So does smile. Ugh.

    "The Cat's dead." John tugged at the sleeve of his shirt, pulling the edge over his bloodied fingers.

  20. I'm sad now. This poor cat has died so many times today ;( LOL.

    Great post. I've got those evil words that love to sneak into my MS. I like using 'lips' at the moment. :)

  21. "The cat's dead," Jon sighed, then knelt on the floor and began raking under the sink. “What do you use to clean the microwave again?”

  22. "The cat's dead." Jon's legs gave out beneath him beside his beloved feline and he pulled the fragile bundle of fur onto his lap.

    Great post! Of course this is an extreme reaction, but there are some cat lover's out there. (Hugs)Indigo

  23. Great post, Jessica!
    The word "sigh" follows me around too. After I finished my first round of revisions, I laughed for a good, long while about that. All my characters seemed to be perpetually sighing!! It was a riot!

    "The cat's dead!" Jon gave a fist pump, almost succeeding in knocking over his glass of soda.

    (I was tired of Jon being sad about the cat dying. Maybe it was an evil cat...)


  24. 'The cat is dead.' Jon wiped the sweat from his brow and high-fived his friend.

  25. "The cat's dead," Jon cringed as he poked it with a stick.

    LOL! I can't think of anything when I'm this tired. Great post Jessica. I find I have a hard time with that too.

  26. The trouble with smile is all the similar words have different connotations. So, here is my attempt…

    “The cat’s dead.” John checked the appropriate box.

  27. Damn, I put smirk and changed it...always go with your first choice! lol

  28. This post made me think of all my "eye" gestures in my first drafts. Ugh! :D

    "The cat's dead." Jon pounded two thumps on his chest with a closed fist, and then extended a sideways peace sign to the ceiling, and God beyond.

  29. I don't think I can use the c word and dead in the same sentence, but this is a really good point. I think we all have those low impact words that slip into our writing over and over again.

  30. Yikes. I just got dinged on some of these! I apparently have a love affair going with the word 'shrugged'...*sigh*
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  31. Oh, yikes! I use the common words often, sometimes switching them out with thesaurus inspiration, but I'm determined to go through my manuscript this week and weed out the crappy decriptors.

    My last revision took care of most of the adjectives. :)

    Thanks for the post (and reminders).



“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

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