As I have my manuscript out with another reader, it occurred to me that in addition to not doing a voice check since an earlier round of edits, I also hadn’t done a check for repeated words. Although my reader may give me some line edits–she doesn’t have to :)–that’s not the main focus at this point, so I decided to do a final check for overly repeated words.
The funny thing is, I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve managed to weed out some of words I used to have issues with–something, one–but I still overuse common words like think and know. Who doesn’t, right? Ooh, there’s another common word–right! Often taking a careful look at the use of any of these words will cause me to realize that another word would be stronger or perhaps I need to rephrase the sentence entirely. And in other cases I decide that it should stay exactly as it is. Sometimes you don’t need to fix what already works!
Anyway, I wrote last year about how crutch words affect voice, but I think it bears repeating since I just did a voice check and I’m now going through it again. So here are some common words and some things to think about–ooh, or consider!–before you swap those words out for a synonym. Since I’ve already gone there, I’ll start with think :).
- As I was reading, I discovered one of my MCs frequently says “You’d think I had … ” and proceeds to give some type of metaphor. I didn’t even realize this was part of her voice until I did this search. Obviously I couldn’t swap that out! A lesson in when not to eliminate a repeated word.
- On the other hand, there were several instances of dialogue where an adult was speaking to one of the MCs, and based on the tone of the conversation, they would be likely to use a word like ponder, assume, believe, consider, contemplate–or even a phrase such as be under the impression.
- Sometimes it’s stronger for the character to imagine, expect, suspect, anticipate, or consider than to think. It all depends on the context. Sometimes they should just think.
- Um, this word is now in my second sentence, but I’m not even removing it. I think even is a particularly good voice check word as it’s a word that adds emphasis. Do you need that emphasis? When I went back through, I discovered that often it was unnecessary, or the sentence could be restructured. However, when not abused, it can have impact in a character’s voice.
- Know is especially hard to get around from a voice standpoint, particularly if you’re writing young adult. There’s no easy swap for I know. You might be able to use I get it a few times or I understand, but your choices after that become I’m aware, I’ve been informed, I realize, I sense, etc. There might be a few instances where you can get away with these in a teen voice, but mostly they’ll come off as phony, so you either have to write out the knowing altogether or leave it and ignore the repetition. On the bright side, if it’s within adult dialogue, the adult could be aware or informed.
- Then there’s the other form of I know–the people I’m acquainted with, the people I’m friends with, the people I’ve met. Yeah, those are all better for voice than just saying the people I know [sarcasm].
- If you’re using I know as in I’m positive or I’m sure, well, there are a couple of options to substitute.
- I don’t know could be I’m not sure, but keep in mind these aren’t exactly the same. The first statement is more definite.
- Do you know could be Have you heard.
- Do your characters say, You know? Mine do. And a lot of the time, I left it–because that’s how they would talk.
- I don’t just like, I love my similes and metaphors, so there are quite a few likes scattered through my manuscript. Sometimes they can be exchanged for as if or as though, but it depends on who is speaking and also how the sentence is worded. It’s both a voice call and a structural issue. You can’t just swap out like for as if or as though and call it a day. You’re often better off leaving it or, if there are two likes close together, rephrasing one of the sentences entirely.
- On the other hand, if you have a rather formal adult–or pretentious child or teenager–you might want to slip in something even more formal than as if or as though. Perhaps an in the manner of, similar to, such as, for instance, characteristic of, etc.?
- Don’t eliminate voice phrases. One of my MCs says It’s not like quite a bit, but since it’s part of her voice, I didn’t change it. However, when I noticed someone else saying it, I made a change so it would stay unique to her.
- Get away with, I get it, get out of–these are all phrases that come up frequently in my manuscript. The tricky part is that often these are already voice substitutes for other common phrases like I know (I get it). However, that doesn’t mean they can’t sometimes be rephrased to something else. As with the previous words, be wary of switching out a more sophisticated phrase if it won’t fit the voice. Evade, abscond, or avoid might work in place of get out of–but they might not.
- It might be fine for certain characters to obtain, acquire, land, procure, grab or score an item instead of get it. Just make sure whatever verb you use as a replacement is a good voice fit.
This post is getting–oops!–long, so I’ll stop there for today. I might continue with some more next week.
Keep in mind: just because the words are repeated doesn’t mean they have to go. Yes, if they’re repeated in close proximity, you should probably take a look and see if you can make a change. And even the act of going through and examining those common words will help you see where some words could be stronger, but sometimes–particularly if you’re on a later draft–the words you already have are what should be there. Don’t feel like you have to change all of your words or get fancy with a synonym to avoid too many occurrences in the manuscript. If it fits with your MC’s voice, keep it. Just be aware of the words you’re using.
What other tricky words do you hold on to/change for voice?