Crutches in writing
17 April 2011
We all have them. Certain words we use more than others. Phrases we rely on.
I am aware of a good number of mine, and even though I consciously try to keep them in check, they always sneak into my work. Especially first drafts. I’m working on something new at the moment, and my goodness, is this first draft littered with crutches. But you know what? I’m OK with this. When I write an initial draft my goal is to simply get the idea out, transfer it from my brain to “paper.” It’s when draft #1 is complete and editing commences, that the party has to end.
So what are these crutches that I have to wrangle into submission while I revise?
» I’m actually quite guilty of using the word “quite” as a filler. (Did you see what I did there?) He was quite happy or she was not quite ready or the show was really quite inspiring. Gah! That adverb!
» Whenever my characters whisper they “talk in hushed tones.” I’m not sure why, but this phrase pops up in my writing all the time.
» I seem to favor a few descriptors when it comes to breaking up dialog. For uncertainty: he looked at his hands. For shock: her eyes went/grew/became wide. For indifference: he shrugged. For annoyance: she frowned/scowled/rolled her eyes.
» Glances and gazes. Shot looks and vengeful stares. These are my characters preferred methods of eyes contact.
» Sighing. It’s possible that my characters sigh more often than any person in the history of humanity. That may or may not be an exaggeration.
I think it’s important to mention that all crutches are fine in moderation. When used sparingly, a word/phrase never has the opportunity of becoming a “crutch.” But when a crutch rears its ugly head, when it proudly (and blatantly) romps around your MS, that’s when you have a problem. So what’s a writer to do?
Ignore them as you write the first draft. All first drafts are messy and littered with crutches. Just get the words out. Get them down. Don’t hinder the flow of your writing because you are stressing over word choice. The assault on your crutches should come later, in editing. When that time comes, my preferred method of attack is to strip out all but the essentials.
At the same time, always remember that you may occasionally need to use one of your crutches. Sometimes no other phrase or wording will work. This is why characters still sigh in my stories. Sometimes, they just have to. And this is 100% OK… So long as they don’t sigh every third page.
The goal is never to write a story without using a single crutch. It’s to write a story in such a way that the reader never recognizes a phrase or word as your go-to solution. To them it is just a story, fluid and natural.
Do you have your own crutches when it comes to writing? If so, what pops up again and again in your early drafts?