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Do you use 'crutch words' in your dialogue?
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Monday, February 28, 2011 5:11 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 353

One of the things that marks many a new writer is that writer's reliance upon "crutch words", i.e., certain words or phrases that seem to creep into every character's dialogue on the page, no matter how completely different those characters may be. One reason for this is that the writer himself may overuse these words or phrases in everyday speech; naturally, it slips into the writing.

I once pointed out to a writer friend that she had used the word "lush" more than twenty times between three different characters. She was appalled because she hadn't seen it herself.

What crutch words do you find yourself using over and over again? How do avoid it?



Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 11:34 AM
Writing is so new to me that I honestly do not know if I've included crutch words in my WIP. I would love a fresh set of eyes to let me know if I have!
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 12:48 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 353

Good point! Well, when you upload your first project, one of the things you can mention in your author's note is that you'd like this kind of feedback. That's exactly what the author's note is for! Good luck! =) Colleen
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 12:55 PM
I actually have uploaded the first two chapters of my WIP, just didn't think about that when I wrote the author's note.
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 3:54 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 6

I've tried posting to this now three times. Lets see if it works without pasting. Please disregard.
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 4:12 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 6

Trying without qoutes. I've noticed that my crutch words are more dominant in the prose, not just dialogue. I now have a list of words and phrases that I tend to overuse sitting at my writing desk to remind me not to use them. The list is about 30 items long now including items such as 'no doubt', 'certainly', 'just', and the common 'but', 'had', 'that', 'as', 'was', etc.
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 5:38 PM
I think that ALL writers run into crutch words on a regular basis, even experienced writers! That's part of what an editor and early readers are for--to notice which words stand out as being used too often. Another great resource for learning to avoid crutch works--and to see what your crutch words you use!-- is Wordle. Allison Pang told me about it and it literally will show you in an easy-to-understand, visual way what your most common words are.
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 6:28 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 68

I find that I mention specifically when characters smile very frequently, as well as describing gestures in terms of the body parts (hand, head, foot) rather than the whole gesture. I know I have a lot of crutch words I use in conversation, they come in and out of favor depending on who I'm around, but I don't know how much that seeps into my writing. Probably more than I think.
Mahesh Raj Mohan
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 8:54 PM
Like Michael, I fall back on the 'smile' crutch often in fiction. Other than that, I'm not consciously aware of other crutch-words I use, but I'm sure there are a bunch. Wordle is a good idea!
Posted: Saturday, March 5, 2011 12:30 AM
Jessica Reilly
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011 4:01 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 3

I use 'looked' a LOT. My characters look at each other or look up or look around. Drives me crazy. I also catch myself using 'So' a lot. I'm told that might be a southern thing, to put 'so' at the beginning of a lot of your sentences. I have to search on that and remove it during the revision stage (unless my character is Southern of course.)
Tim Johnson
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011 7:16 PM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 13

Jessica - I find myself starting sentences with 'So' almost every freaking paragraph. During my outlines I tend to just let them go... and make time to specifically attack those stupid words. Colleen - You are absolutely right, after I caught myself using 'So' in my writing, I tried to look at it in my speech...I use it all the time there. So now you know. I would LOVE some helpful hints for catching phrases or 'turns of speech'. Typically (I find I use that one a lot too) I try to beco
Jessica Reilly
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 4:08 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 3

Tim, I totally agree - let the words flow at the draft stage and try to find those pesky 'so' types of issues later. The best way I've found to catch things like that is a great critique group! It's best if you have a mix of people from different walks-of-life or different parts of the country if possible. That's how I found out about my 'so' problem - by meeting someone from Boston who made fun of me - in a very nice way of course (we're still friends).
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 12:35 AM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 10

I think everybody falls back on 'crutch words', particularly when it's a new draft and you're not sure of who the characters are or what they'll act like yet. Sometimes, I need a 'warm-up' phase of writing, and it's usually awful and needs rewriting. It helps during editing to identify a few of those words and phrases, and just use a word processor's search engine to determine how many times they're used, and by whom. I find that once I get a phrase in my head, I'll sometimes reuse it several ti
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 3:58 PM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 2

A friend showed me the following website, which is a Phrase Frequency Counter. It helped show which phrases/words I use most. Great way to find out if you have crutch words!
Joan Rylen
Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011 11:39 PM
Joined: 3/10/2011
Posts: 7

Robbyn here - on the left - My co-author, Johnell, and I definitely have crutch words. I try to look out for hers and vice versa. We use the find tool in Word to catch them.

She says "apparently" a lot and I say "awesome" a lot. We are apparently awesome!

Thanks Susie for sharing the website above. I'll have to check that out. I bet it's awesome.
Posted: Saturday, March 12, 2011 6:20 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 10

So, well, clearly I just don't do that. Look, I used them all in one sentence.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 12:52 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

My characters tend to sound alike unless I am VERY careful. Its not words so much as constructions, and it IS because i tend to overuse them myself. It was so bad in my speech that at a party once, my friends played ME the drinking game. To combat it, when i create character sketches, i create a list of THEIR catch phrases, and sprinkle them in. Of course, I had a character that used the double that a lot (its true that that thing is true) and had a reader call it out as bad grammar, suggesting it was a typo. I had to explain, no, that's how she talks.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 12:55 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

Oh, one very good tip I saw once, on a TV show nonetheless. There was a show called Party Down, about a catering company in Hollywood. One episode, they are catering a party for Steve Gutenberg. One of the guys, and his friend that is present at the part, are hopeful screenwriters. Gutenberg reads the script, and asks them how trial runs sounded. When they stare at him blankly, he looks at them, and this line, as a writer, gave me chills. He said "Have you ever heard your written words, spoken aloud?"

It was like a lightbulb. Anytime I've run into issues since then, I've read the dialogue aloud into a recorder, and played it back. Found a lot of issues and realized a lot of fixes that way.
Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 2:43 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 102

My biggest pet peeve in dialogue is the overuse of weak words that one would take out of their prose. In particular words like just, very, and really.

I think it's critical for writers to find the balance between what people really say and what a character should say.
Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 7:59 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 244

I overuse descriptors. Like oak when describing a tree. Every tree is an oak. Every door is made of oak. Extreme example perhaps, but it's been true of my work.

I'm sure there are others. I'll have to check out that website.
Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 8:16 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 222


I am definitely guilty of this. However, like many of the people who have responded, I am fairly blind to it. A LOT of my characters nod. Or smile. Or do some specific action as they talk or interact with other characters.

I tend to leave crutch words in until the second round of edits, then I start with keyword searches on the guilty words. Then, change them as needed.

I do usually require a second pair of eyes to identify what the words are, though.

Though, as an aside... you know what the most common crutch words I have are? Those pesky "You" and "I" words. Always showing up in character commentary. I mean, geeze. (Ok, I'm done being silly...)
Robert C Roman
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 8:35 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 376

My crutch words are the reason I need an editor. Actually, more than crutch words I had crutch word formations, which are harder to figure out. Any more, as I'm writing I look at my own work and think "What would my editor say".

The worst ones were "As" and "Actually"
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011 11:23 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 279

I'm a new writer and guilty of crutch words. I use a program sometimes called WriteWayPro that will go through your manuscript and tell you how many times you use a particular word or phrase. There are a lot of things I don't like about WWP but that feature saved my readers from a lot of rolled eyes. Seriously. I had a character roll her eyes fifty times in 100k words.
Jason Myers
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 8:32 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 21

Completely agree with Danielle, Wordle is the tool you need. Just toss your manuscript in it, and BOOM you'll know your crutch words.

Posted: Saturday, March 19, 2011 1:13 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 7

Actually, I used to overuse "actually" in character conversation. Two things help me not to do that, and not to fall into similar habits. My first line of defense is reading aloud what I've written. It's much easier for me to hear what's wrong than it is for me to see it. The second, and best, line of defense is to bring it to my writing group. There are five of us altogether, and it's an incredibly helpful group, from pointing out that this is the incorrect spelling of "discreet" for the meaning wanted, to semi-colon vs. comma vs. new sentence, to whether dialogue is true to character, to whether we're so carried away with our own cleverness that we've thrown out pacing.
MB Mulhall
Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 2:34 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 80

Holy cow my characters are all constantly using OK.

"Are you OK?"
"Let's go, OK?"
"OK, I'll do it when I'm done here."
"OK. I suppose I can handle that."

They they start nodding, flashing smiles and running hands through their hair. It's crazy. I try to catch them in re-reads and edits, but the sheer volume of them always amazes me.
Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 1:33 AM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 88

Can anyone tell me what's up with all the smiling? Since reading folk's online manuscripts it's like an epidemic! She smiled, he smiled, he grinned, she smiled sheepishly, the hint of a smile... And they have characters for whom "smiling" is a major character defining action, and I'll read it after or before every bit of dialogue and as part of every description. It's weird, okay?

When a writer calls attention to the bare fact of a character smiling, I automatically assume it's a rhetorical gesture, a willed action--not a sincere, automatic expression of emotion. To my mind a sincere smile rarely has to be mentioned--the happy or humorous context would tell me enough, y'know what I'm saying? Unless the smile is one of those amazing like-sunflowers-against-a-cloudless-sky type o' smiles. It really throws me off, all this he smiled/she smiled, and if it goes on too long, it starts creeping me out! lol

MB Mulhall
Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 3:32 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 80

It's an epidemic and all their faces must hurt! I think it'd be much better if they were pouting all the time.
Posted: Friday, April 8, 2011 2:30 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 19

I have a problem with using "that". After I finish a first draft, I usually need to do a quick Find on the doc and re-read every single instance I use "that".

I'm sure I have more, but it's the one word that I'm more than a little aware of over-using.
Jessie Kwak
Posted: Friday, April 8, 2011 3:05 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 25

I've been compiling a list of my crutch words, which mostly show up in the dialogue tags and attributions: He sighed, she laughed, he shrugged, she looked away.

My characters "look" a lot.

When I'm revising I dedicate a specific color highlighter which I use on every one of those instances, and I cut nearly all of them. What really helped me was to go through a passage of dialogue from a writer I admire and identify all the much more creative ways she has her characters gesture and act while speaking.

My drafts are still full of crutches, but this process has helped immensely in revision!
Blakely Chorpenning
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 4:21 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 26

I also use the special highlighter method to combat my crutches. (And I taught others to do so when I was an English tutor years ago.)
I definitely get carried away with "She" and "That" more than humanly possible. And I get caught up in actual actions rather than finding a fresh way to present it to the reader. I get too literal, and put way too much importance into specifics such as which foot moved where.
But my sticky note is a list of the senses because I often forget to add more than just sight and sound. So maybe one of my crutches is not necessarily a specific word or action, but more so forgetfulness and tunnel vision.
But that is one of the great things about peer reviews. We can help each other pinpoint those little crutches and toss them out.

Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 3:15 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 4

My primary crutches are "really," "just," "actually," and "but." But really, it's just actually hard to avoid crutches.
Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011 3:58 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 240

Reading aloud is my best way to catch this sort of thing. I read aloud to my partner and find my self shaking my head and going, "what? she shook her head again?" then using my handy-dandy pencil to delete.

I also turned a couple of crutches into character development tools. One will run her hands through her hair as a nervous gesture frequently. One will raise an eyebrow frequently. But I make sure only one character is doing each these distinctive things (for example) so that it actually marks her, as part of her personality.

As for repeated words, I also use wordle. I now know that I use the word "now" WAY too often.
Stevie McCoy
Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 7:08 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 37

I use the word "unfortunately" a lot in daily dialogue
and unforutnately i do not catch all of my crutch words until i've re-read my manuscript at least 3 times to catch and repetition or uncharacteristic speech in the characters... so hard... but i guess that is why they say revision, Revision, REVISION! lol

One of my teachers once told me that a manuscript is never complete only abandoned. There will always be room for revision.
Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 7:27 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 240

True that. It's my big fear about paper publishing. The darn thing will be set in stone with some fiddly thing that nags me like a sore thumb on page 46, or something.
Stevie McCoy
Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 8:39 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 37

This is why one must hope for a really awesome editor but even then the mistakes are in there. I was just reading a Nora Roberts novel, one of her trilogies, and I've already caught two very stupid mistakes, very small but still funny because they had me re-reading the sentence and brought me out of the story. Having people you trust to read your novel and point out these things to you are good because even the smallest of things can break the fourth wall.
Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2011 5:44 PM
Joined: 6/3/2011
Posts: 9

My biggest problem is probably "crutch words", but not in the one word sense. I have a bit of a southern accent so I'm kinda worried all my characters will reflect it. As an outlet my main female character has it too so I can write freely with her, but I think I may have slipped and used natural phrases repetitively. If you read a bit of my book sometime just tell me "hay, you know that this guy said "yall" right?" I feel like I got a handicap, but can't do anything about it.
Toni Wyatt
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 11:41 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 52

I recently made a list of my 'crutch' words and scanned my documents for them. I tried to delete as many of them as I could. It's been a process. I don't know if I can break the habit of writing them in the first place. That is the challenge.
Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2011 6:03 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 226

I'm sure I have more, but the two that spring to mind instantly are "Not that I don't...[insert various things here]," and "hell." "What the hell," "Who the hell," etc.

There's a running list of words to go through and fix during my edit, too.
Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 3:40 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 244

I just recently finished a final revision and then line edit of my book I'm hoping to query soon. There were a few crutch phrases and gestures in the book. One thing that I've noticed since going through this edit is that as I'm writing in my current WiP, I'm consciously avoiding those gestures and phrases. I'm sure there'll be other crutches that crop up in this book, but once I know what they are it's amazing to notice how my brain kicks into overdrive to avoid those.

I had all sorts of "eye" words, smiles in different incarnations (like beamed and grinned), shrugs. I can't remember them all at the moment but I'm sure my list is around here somewhere. (On the other side of the room and I'm too lazy to get up and go look.)
A J Hart
Posted: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 11:49 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 26

My characters like to hessitate and leap into action a little too much. I cringe when thinking about how many times they smile, grin or chuckle. 

I like the idea of writing my crutch words on a sticky and keeping it at my desk, I might have to start doing that. 
Angela Martello
Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2011 8:10 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

My characters have very distinct voices that I hear in my head (yes, I hear voices - don't we all?) as I'm working out dialog (which, for me, usually comes first, then I pad the writing with exposition, action, etc.). Because of their distinct voices and vastly different backgrounds, each character's speech pattern has a certain rhythm to it, which I hope helps to eliminate the repetition of phrases and other crutch words.

That said, however, I'm also too close to my own writing and rely heavily on multiple reads on my part and on comments from other readers to help catch any repetition or crutch words and phrases.

Alexandria Brim
Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2012 12:06 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 350

After reading this topic, I looked over my work for my own "crutch" words. And I realized I rely too much on "would," "could," and "should." Now that I know, if I find myself writing the word, I step back and reconsider. If the sentence doesn't need it, I drop it.
Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2012 5:58 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 43

I never heard of crutch words before in dialogue. What are good examples?

Posted: Sunday, January 8, 2012 10:48 AM
Joined: 7/18/2011
Posts: 24

"Of course" is my big one. At the beginnings and end of sentences. I noticed last year that all of my characters were saying it, so I tried to limit it just to two characters who influence each other's speech patterns. Of course, it still creeps up in other characters thoughts when I'm not looking.

Another one that drives me crazy - "He furrowed his brow." I've started to just use it as filler, so I can quickly locate a space that needs description. Though, I notice this phrase in published books everywhere. What does it even really mean? And why did people start using it all the time?
Kat Day
Posted: Monday, January 9, 2012 6:38 PM
Joined: 12/29/2011
Posts: 10

Furrowed his brow? Like, who talks like that, right?
But seriously, I suppose it's a way to say eyebrows rise in a quizical manner, or a person is thinking/worrying. And yes, it's common. I've found myself saying 'her forehead crinkled.' Is that any better?

Crutch words: 'just', 'that', 'looked', and 'had'. My dialogue is often broken up by looking into eyes and chuckling sometimes a hand on the arm. There must be something else to break up dialogue and tags!
Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 1:09 PM
Joined: 4/4/2011
Posts: 6

A few are have, found, came, just

Angela Martello
Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2012 4:12 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

I've been doing this editing exercise where I have been reading my entire book backwards (sometimes literally sentence by sentence; other times section by section). It helped me edit out 11,000+ words. Some of those words were in fairly large chunks - a paragraph here or there. But most of them were dialogue tags and - you guessed it! - crutch words and repeated phrases that I really didn't realize I was using. Reading the dialogue out of order helped me see them.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012 12:32 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

Hmm, you know, this might be a place where some software would be useful., something that could find and count most common words and phrases.


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