The Writers Circle

creative writing community, craft and inspiration

Default Words

wordsEvery writer has them. The words that crop up, over and over again in their manuscripts, the ones where, when they reach for a phrase, this is what appears.

I’ve been thinking about default words lately, because I’m doing a pass through my latest novel, trying to remove them. One of my favorite beta readers was kind enough to identify the following list:

  • Hiss
  • Grin
  • Sneer
  • Lips/mouth curled
  • Gasp
  • Bemused
  • Sigh

Except for bemused, these are all fairly typical words. And some of them are very hard to replace. Think of the word “grin” for instance. It’s one of those words that contains a multitude of meanings, one that I hesitate to substitute by the word smile (too weak) or beam (too happy) or smirk (too mean).

Hiss, on the other hand, is a highly specific word with very few substitutions available. Sibilance, anyone? It doesn’t do it, does it? And a lot of the other options – catcall, buzz – are either too modern or don’t fit my personal style.

So what do you do with a list like mine? Consider what you’re trying to do in the sentence. If someone’s hissing a rejoinder, it obviously means that they’re angry, annoyed, or trying to keep a secret. If you can rewrite the entire sentence, sometimes you can actually get closer to your original intent. And that is never a bad thing.

The other thing to consider is how often is too often. A default word flavors your writing in a way that isn’t always detrimental. That “bemused” for example, says something about how I approach language. It’s not perplexed or confused, it’s bemused. That helps set my time period (18th Century) in a way that more modern parlances will not.

And then, there are times when a word is just a word. Sure, my characters hiss a lot, they sneer and curl their lips. They’re facing rising stakes and terrible situations and this is how they respond to them. And when they grin or sigh or act bemused? That’s when love might well be in the air.

One comment on “Default Words

  1. mprahillMary Patricia Rahill
    February 3, 2015

    I found grin on the list and that is one of my default words. I find myself using the Find feature on Word, but the Thesaurus has limited alternatives. What’s a writer to do? I try to find other ways of getting the image across, but sometimes only a smile or grin will do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on February 3, 2015 by in Finding your voice, power of words, revision, writing advice, writing technique.
The Writers Circle
Copyright © The Writers Circle, LLC Contact us for permission to reprint or reuse.
%d bloggers like this: