Editorial Aid: My List of Overused and Abused Words

Why I need my list: One thing I have been told repeatedly is to edit the hell out of everything before trying to get it published. This stands to reason, as a manuscript full of typos and incorrect word usage is a turn-off for agents, editors, and publishers. Great, but no one has ever told me how to edit the hell out of something. I figured that grammar and spell checks factored in, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure, and those checks don’t catch everything. Thus, I developed a system for myself, and this list of words is a big part of that.

How I started my list: After I sent my mother the first novel I ever wrote, she called me and said, “I am sick and tired of Mr. Chuckles.” I had used that word over 50 times in 300 pages. No one chuckles that much. Because of that, I did some searching <ctrl+f> and came up with a list of words that I abuse. I always search these when editing. For the overused words, I don’t remove all of them, just enough to spread it out so you don’t notice it. (The book I am currently reading has “diffidently” 20 times in 400 pages. That is too much for an adverb!) The others are words that are abused – used incorrectly or typed in error.

My List:

  • cliches and colloquialisms (grammar check catches most of these, for American English)
  • then/than
  • farther/further
  • hear/here
  • your/you’re (a mortifying mistake for an author, but it happens)
  • there/their/they’re (another mortifying mistake)
  • form/from
  • fro/for
  • words that end with -wards should be -ward (toward not towards)
  • piece of [my, his, her] mind/peace of mind
  • you outside of a quotation
  • had/passive voice (you can’t get rid of them all; you can’t and shouldn’t, but you should try to keep your writing active!)
  • is/was (you can’t get rid of them all, and you shouldn’t)
  • fuck/shit/piss/hell/damn (no one should curse all the time)
  • my own (replace with “mine” or just “my” whenever possible)
  • grumble
  • growl
  • chuckle
  • snicker/snigger usage (I don’t think anyone really uses snigger anymore)
  • flop (my characters flop onto furniture a lot)
  • hum (related to sex scenes)
  • hiss (dialogue must have have words with S’s for characters to hiss)
  • wiggle
  • smirk
  • like (when I should use “as if,” “as,” or “as though”)
  • could, would, and should
  • words in place of “said” (don’t over-do it)
  • seem
  • appear

Those last two are often used incorrectly, so it’s best to avoid them if you can. If you have more suggestions, please share!

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