We all have our go-to words and overused phrases. Usually these patterns emerge unconsciously. Some writing tools like Scrivener have built in functions that can tell you what words you’ve overused, and their frequency.
Crutch words are often the easiest descriptions for what someone’s doing, and they become pretty obvious during revisions. The problem is they can make the story boring and repetitive.
But have no fear! There are always many ways to describe an single action. The general rule of thumb? Get more specific.
Here are a few examples of words I overuse, and alternatives to them.
- tilted his head down
- tilted his head up
- lifted his chin
- He took a step back, and raised an eyebrow. At least it wasn’t a refusal.
- spun around
- looked over his shoulder
- went the other direction
- I could see only the back of his head as he walked away.
- pointed out the car outside the house
- “See anyone?” “No, it’s all clear.”
- He picked up the vase and examined the design.
- pointed at the chair
- waved his hands
- fluffed the pillow and set it down for me to sit upon
- pulled out the chair
- nodded once
- extended his hand
- hunched his shoulders
- shoulders rose and fell
- let out a “hrumph”
- waved his hands in dismissal
Did not reply
- He returned to his dinner, picked at a piece of bacon.
- He ignored me.
- He walked away.
- He was quiet.
- I don’t know if he heard me.
- leaned against the wall
- He sprawled out, catlike.
- His face split in half
- He opened mouth so wide, I could see two rows of teeth.
- He glowed
- She suppressed a giggle, her mouth crooked.
- He folded hands over belly and tried not to spit.
If you want to add a little extra spice, you could also give a few characters using particular mannerisms. For example, you can have a character that bites her lip when she’s concentrating, or twists her wedding ring when she’s anxious.
Do you know what your crutch words are? They’re sneaky little things.