Is now a good time to think about all of your overused words and phrases? Yes, it is!

It doesn’t matter where you are in writing your novel, now is always a good time to think of these things. Well, yes, there is always a caveat to that. If you’re a pantser or someone who gets really deep into the writing of their book that they simply do not stop to reread or edit what they’re writing, then, no, now is not a good time. Wait until you’re finished writing the book. For everyone else, go for it!

I am deep into writing my next book—about 15,000 words in and riding that Rising Action hill as my characters get to know each other and confront goals they didn’t realize they needed to have or even those they did. I don’t always stop to reread what I’ve written the previous day, but I do sometimes stop and reread what I’ve just written, or, at least, I try to.

If I edit as I write, I have a lot less cleaning up to do after the book is done. Does it take me out of the story? No, not at all. In fact, it helps me think about what needs to happen next (if I don’t already have it plotted out). But even as I am writing words, I realize that my characters are doing the same actions again and again.

My characters smile and nod ALL THE TIME! They laugh and chuckle and giggle. Frowning comes in there as well sometimes with pinched lips and almost always with brows being drawn down. Stomachs knot, chills run up and down spines, hearts begin to pound (sometimes in the character’s ears, which is really odd), and heat rushes through bodies at an alarming rate, up arms and down to toes.

I wonder if my readers get heartily bored with reading the same thing over and over again and yet I can’t stop myself! It’s how I try to convey feeling without actually saying “She was attracted to him” or “He found her amusing” or whatever. How do I show that someone says something with good humor? They smile. How do I show that someone is amused, happy, upset or interested?

A smile, to my mind, says so much. But there’s got to be another way. Showing the emotion behind the smile will help. Guessing at someone else’s emotion as they speak could get very interesting because the person guessing might be very wrong. Moving more than the character’s face could get very interesting—arms can cross, a person can step back or forward, they can lean forward or back as well.

The point to all this is to be aware of what your characters are doing and see if they do it too much. Is it a habit that they have or one you have in your writing?

So, how do you find these things? If this is just the way you write, perhaps you don’t even notice that you do this.

There a couple of ways, of course. You can use software—ProWritingAid or PerfectIt are both good at finding these things. Read through your book and they’ll pop out at you, especially if you pay close attention to your dialogue tags. Or you can just use search/find for commonly overused words.

There are words like smile and nodded.

Garbage words (those that you can remove from a sentence without changing the meaning)

  • Really
  • Very
  • Totally
  • So
  • That
  • And then
  • Just

And filter words

  • Saw
  • Heard
  • Felt
  • Thought

Another common problem authors have is those moving body parts… that is, parts that shouldn’t move that way. It’s usually eyes which drop, and heads that also drop. Eyebrows tend to move around a lot, as well. Just be careful that nothing is moving out of the body that should be there (like eyes), nor that anything moves too frequently (I have lips quirking a touch too often in an attempt to cut down on those smiles).

These suggestions will get you started in your search for overly used words, phrases, and odd movements. The key is to know your writing and what you tend to overuse. I’m certain if you look for them, you’ll see them.

For a great article on this topic check out Quelling Those Writerly Quirks on Writer Unboxed.