Saturday, June 7, 2008

Weed Words

by Darlene Ryan

A couple of months ago Lynn Viehl had a great post about weed words—words that come up over and over (and over) in our writing. Most of us are probably guilty of overusing the same few descriptive words—really, terrific, great, wonderful, exciting and probably. What Lynn was talking about were object words. Things. She admitted to what she termed “my obsession with doors. You can tell when I've rushed too much on editing one of my novels because of the thirty or more door references in the story.” She also admitted to a fondness for water and window sills.

Sharon Wildwind says if she’s not vigilant her characters tend to shiver a lot. Janet Koch confesses in her last manuscript “I had people whirling and spinning all over the place. And lots of throats were mentioned--throats being cleared, breaths being caught in throats, fear rising in throats.”

My most persistent weed words are action words; hands running through hair, walking and very weirdly, vomiting. People in my books tend to have a lot of hair and they’re always running their hands through it. It makes sense that hair would show up a lot in my writing because I am a little hair obsessed. What I dream of is hair like Angelina Jolie’s or Jessica Simpson’s. What I have is hair like Clay Aiken circa the early American Idol days. Which my mother tried to remedy with a succession of Toni home perms. Picture Clay Aiken with an afro and you’ll get the picture. No wonder everybody in my books is always touching their gorgeous hair. (Note: the results of all those home perms have nothing to do with the actual Toni home perm and everything to do with the fact that my mother believed if twenty minutes would result in soft, gentle curls then forty minutes would yield fabulous, bountiful curls.)

All the walking that shows up in my writing has a certain logic as well. I walk a lot. I always have. What I can’t figure out is why my subconscious always has to have someone heaving in a book.


I never seem to see my weed words when a book is in manuscript form. When I’m doing re-writes I’m zealous about looking for the overuse of words such as probably, slowly, a lot and really. But I don’t seem to see the all the times a character is walking along pulling her hands through her hair. Or vomiting. Or maybe the truth is that I see them but every single occurrence seems essential to the story. At least at the time.


So what are your weed words? Do your characters whirl or shiver? Do you have a thing for hair? Or doors? Or queasiness?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great observation. I am sensitive to the verys, seems to and other annoying modifiers, but it never occured to me to look for over used activities. But you've invented a new parlor game, you know you're reading a Rex Stout novel because the doorbell is always ringing. You know you're reading a....
Susan

Lonnie Cruse said...

Sigh, one of my critique partners highlights all the LY words and all the repeat words. I had to take a stand, however about my character, Billy. That ly word stays. Heheh. Still is one of my weed words. Folks. Soooo many, I can't count the rest of my weed words. But my Critique group certainly can. Sniff.

Lori said...

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but several of my characters have had rolling eyeballs.

Anonymous said...

My weed word is coffee. In my WIP people always seem to be drinking it, making it, or going out for it.

Joyce said...

I use just way too much.

My critique partner also pointed out that I had people flipping open their cell phones all the time.

Julia Buckley said...

I once had an objective reader tell me that my detective had breakfast twice in the same chapter. Not a weed word, but a weed action? I must have been hungry.

I'm not sure about the words--I'm sure my writer's group could supply me with a million of them. :)

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm pretty good at avoiding "very" and other meaningless qualifiers, and I never, ever, let my characters' eyeballs roll around the page, but when I go back through a first draft I always find that I've repeated some body language so many times it becomes farcical. If my characters raked their fingers through their hair any more often, they'd be bald.

Rob said...

I just finished a book--I won't say who the author is--and the main character was always thinking to himself. The "to himself" part drove me crazy. After all, you can't think to anyone else. Well, unless you have some sort of paranormal ability.

Darlene Ryan said...

Rolling eyeballs are not always bad. I once won a radio play contest with rolling eyeballs.

Terry Odell said...

I've always called them 'crutch words' but I really like 'weed words' (and 'really' is one of mine!) Along with very, just, still, and in my last couple of manuscripts, "moment." Everyone was waiting 'just a moment' before moving on to the next action.

I try to vary what the characters do, but mine have a tendency to smile too much. Some 'trademark' gestures are good, as long as they don't turn into 'tics'.

I notice I have a lot of hand squeezing. And my heroines seem to make a lot of tea.

In Faye Kellerman's series, Peter Decker smoothes his moustach a LOT.