When I got my latest novel (Bridges) back from my longtime developmental editor, as usual, she offered helpful suggestions for how to improve plot, pacing, character development, etc. This time, however, she also mentioned that my main character smiled–“a lot.”
Curious as to what my editor meant by “a lot,” I used the search function in Word to count just how many times the words “she smiled” or “Daphne smiled” appeared in my first draft. Let’s just say it was way too many. I smiled (no pun intended) at my oversight and immediately got rid of a bunch of them. Thank you, Christina!
It seems like no matter how hard I try, my first drafts are always overloaded with words or phrases such as “she smiled.” Other favorites I’ve found myself overusing include “she nodded,” “she raised her eyebrows,” and “she walked home slowly/she slowly walked home.” Usually I catch them myself when I read over the manuscript, but not always, as this recent experience demonstrated. (If you’re not familiar with the search function in Microsoft Word, it’s usually a box at the top right corner of any open document that says, “Search in Document” or “Find.” Type in the word(s) of interest and hit the Enter key, and viola!)
Do you also suffer from this affliction? I think most writers probably do, but the key is to identify your go-to words before your book goes to print. Otherwise you risk irritating your readers, who might wind up focusing on the repetition and not the story. This is especially true if your go-to words or phrases are unusual or dramatic. Imagine seeing “He was flabbergasted” or “She screamed at the top of her lungs” more than once in the same book. I think I would immediately notice, and not in a good way. Would you?
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