We all use them but what exactly are crutch words?
Crutch words slip into your writing when you’re back is turned. They are comfortable, familiar words your brain falls back on in everyday speech and which migrate, unbidden, to your creative writing.
Using crutch words is weakening your writing voice. Consciously or unconsciously, readers notice them. Be it a ‘lazy’ word or an oft repeated phrase, identifying and eliminating yours will improve your creative writing instantly.
What are Crutch Words?
Crutch words are filler words that when added to a sentence kill your ability to paint with your author voice. They are words you might use in everyday speech to give yourself thinking time (actually…) or to provide emphasis to what you’re saying (literally…). Unconsciously, these words can also slip into your writing but are often unnecessary. I like to think of these as my ‘lazy’ words. If you’re using them then chances are the sentence you’ve written isn’t strong enough to survive without it.
Let’s look at a few examples:
It won’t have slipped your attention that the main culprits here are adverbs. They are as their name suggests – additions (modifiers) to verbs and as a writer you are best to avoid them unless they really do add to the context of the sentence and story.
If you are using any of the above crutch words, you will find that rewriting your sentence without them will improve what you are trying to say, you will convey your message in a more concise and creative way purely because you had to reconstruct the sentence to make the same point. You will automatically convert to an active voice which is what every writer should strive for.
Look through some of your writing, can you find any of these crutch words? This is not a comprehensive list, we all bring our own ticks to the page. What are yours? Tell us in the comments.
If you’re finding it difficult to critique your own work and can’t stretch to the expense of an editor, try an online tool like WordCounter. This will provide you with a list of your most used words as well as give suggestions for improvement.
What else is affecting your writing and annoying your reader?
If crutch words are noticeable to readers, then so are crutch phrases. Do you have a favourite phrase you tend to repeat in your writing? I notice them like wasp stings, here are some of my favourites:
You may also find your characters develop an annoying habit of repeating the same actions several times throughout your text (Abi turned her wine glass in her hand) or they go through phases of pulling the same expressions (John half smiled) for pages on end. It’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes check for these occurrences, even if it’s just a family member. If they pick up on something as an irritant then it probably needs addressing.
Do any of these crop up in your writing? Do you have any phrases that you tend to fall back on? Tell us what they are in the comments.
Seeking out and destroying your crutch words and phrases is the first step towards strengthening your writing voice and driving home the point you’re trying to make, but a word of caution, these words are in the English language for a reason, they have a place. It’s your job as an author to know how and when to use them properly yet sparingly in your work.
If in doubt, ask yourself a few simple questions:
- Why is the word or phrase there? Does it add to the sentence or is it just a filler?
- How will removing the crutch word or phrase alter the flow of the sentence or the meaning you’re trying to convey?
- Are you missing an opportunity to craft a more vivd description with movement and active verbs?
- Is the crutch word or phrase making the sentence unnecessarily long? Could your writing improve from ruthlessly cutting it out and writing a shorter, snappier sentence?
Thank you for reading this tips post, please leave your worldly wisdom below for our collective learning. Next time, I’ll be speaking about speech modifiers!
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