Saturday, October 1, 2022

2022 - October - Wicked Words

Red Flag Words & Phrases

Writers have crutch phases and crutch words they use when drafting. These are habit words, that is, words that are placed on the page without consciously thinking about them being overused words.

When critique partners point out such overused words or phrases, start a Red Flag List of them and ruthlessly remove them when you self-edit. 

But go an extra mile— once aware of such Red Flag Words, start to eradicate typing them or using them as you draft. It's best to do one Red Flag word or phrase at a time. After all, you can't catch every one all at once, right?

Okay, so once you achieve success with one Red Flag word or phrase minimized (yes, minimized, because sometimes it might just be the right word to leave on the page!), move on to the next word on your list.

If you're curious about what are the most wicked Red Flag Words, they are: WAS and its companion WERE. Next is AND, BUT, JUST, SO, ONLY. 

How can you figure out if you have such Red Flag Words in such quantities that its detrimental to the manuscript? Here's how:

Take ten pages of your writing, any ten. Use your computer's search and find feature and look for WAS. If your word processor highlights in color, look at the pages—are they dotted with highlights or does the highlight appear in clusters? In both instances, can you cut down on the number by providing better, image-provoking verbs? 

Now, is also a good time to get your computer to tell you how many WASes is in your sample. Divide the number of WASes into the number of words. What is the ratio? Strive for a ratio of one WAS per page (or one in 331 words).

For the record, when I had writers do this exercise in my online courses, one writer discovered she used was once every 15 words—in other words, in every sentence (the average sentence is 20 words). She even had two wases in one sentence.

As for me, when I began checking my work, I was lucky to get one was in 441 words. Ten years later, the average was one in a thousand. My current work in progress has a chapter that I found only one was in 3,544 words.

Keep in mind that nothing is written in stone. Some of those WASes will have to remain. Also keep in mind that the overuse of Red Flag Words at some point will drone like angry bees in a reader's mind,and the reader will either quit reading or not feel the story is worth a five-star review, let alone tell others about the story.

If you do a WAS ratio, let me know your score.