Saturday, June 29, 2013

Crutch or Clutch Words--Put Them in the Trash

There are words out there I call crutch words because they pop up repeatedly in stories, as if the writer is leaning on them. I also call them clutch words because they are words a writer clings to, even when keeping them makes no sense.

Crutch words are filler. They float along in the sentence, but they add nothing to its meaning. Nothing except a ratcheted word count. They cause wordy sentences. Bet your bottom dollar that an agent will recognize them for what they are--a waste of space. And we are all guilty of them. Many times, they creep in without the writer being aware. 

So what are these crutch words and how can a person recognize them. Some of the biggest abusers are: just, very, only, even, that. And they also include a whole host of directional words such as up, down, back. (Back being my own personal kryptonite. It's embarrassing but my first manuscript's word cloud had "back" in huge letters.) 

While it's not possible to keep them from a first draft, an editing run through is the perfect place to track and eliminate these crutch words. For some reason these words have a deep place in writer's hearts (especially just), but you have to be ruthless.

What's that? You don't even think it is fair to cut out all your very favorite words. It's not like they add up to so much more word count. It's just the way you write. Editing is only for losers and people that don't have a life.

So my example is extreme but you get the idea. How does that look without the crutch words?

What? You don't think it is fair to cut your favorite words. It's not like they add much word count. It's the way you write. Editing is for losers and people without a life.      

People sometimes add crutch words to dialogue to achieve a particular voice, usually a younger voice or an uneducated one. Remember, too much of it and you are going to drive your readers crazy. 

Be aware and don't let the crutch words have control. 

Confess. What is your crutch word kryptonite? 


  1. My two words were "all" and "way." Most of the ones you listed in your post are technically adverbs. Sneaky little devils.

  2. I'm with you Michelle. Directional words. She "looked up". Or another word "at". As in she looked "at" him. I've been eliminating these & all other crutches wherever they're lurking.

    Call me the "crutch-killer"!

    Great post Michelle. :)

  3. "looked" I use WAY too much. I don't know what else I use just yet; wait until edits come around DX

  4. In my first manuscript, "just" was my crutch. I made sure not to use it in my second manuscript, and instead "even" took its place. It's hard to recognize them when I write. It's why my CPs are so awesome. :)

  5. My crutch word is "and" to connect two independent clauses. lol Sometimes I just don't want to say "This happened. This happened next." lol I want "This happened, and this happened." I deleted hundreds from my manuscript.

    Don't know if you know the Youtube song, but when you said ratcheted word count, I thought "That word count's ratcheeet." lol

  6. I've got a whole phrase-- in my first MS, I had "For a moment" practically EVERYWHERE. Now I have to physically restrain myself when I get the urge to write it, or backspace over that sucker before it gets the chance to multiply.

    I'll be saving this blogpost for when I make my final sweep of edits-- usually my crutch words are the last things to go before I hand out my stories to crit partners.

  7. "As if" and "looked" are the worst for me! If we can count "-ly" words, even when I try to actively stop, they show up.

    It used to be "sighed" but I'm, sigh, slowly getting over that. Fun post!

  8. "Quite" and "rather" are my crutch words. I rather like using them, though they are quite distracting from the MS.

  9. Of course, I never succumb to the crutch word trap. Of course, it can be difficult to avoid. But I, of course, am a much better writer than that.

  10. I know I use "just." Wow this is great. Your editing tips are awesome!