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Learning Your Pet Words

One of the things that an editor (or really anyone else who reads your manuscripts) will discover are your pet words and phrases. Sometimes these pet words are part of a message, sometimes they are simply a nervous habit. While I was in college, we had regular speakers who had pet words - and everyone counted the time the word was used.

Like our own pets (case in point, our two lab mixes in the photograph above), the pet words seem to be everywhere. In Azure Lights, my pet phrase became 'breathed deeply' or 'took a deep breath' when the character was about ready to speak. I remember taking some of the words out (after all, you can't really breath deeply underwater if you're a mermaid and use gills), but I didn't catch all of them.

If the words are used as a character's distinguishing mark that can be a good thing, but often times it is lazy, such as in my case. Sometimes, you catch yourself through the editing process; sometimes you don't. Having someone else read a manuscript helps catch the phrases.

What can you do?
  1. Recognize your favorite words. Listen to yourself as you speak, and you can hear words or phrases that you use often. Think about how someone parodies someone else - actions, inflections and words are used to create the parody.
  2. Make a list of the words. As you have people point out the words or phrases, make a list of them. At first, it will be hard to find replacement phrases, but it eventually becomes easier.
  3. Strengthen the vocabulary. Clichés are often the worst offenders in the repetition category. By strengthening your vocabulary, you can utilize more words for your manuscripts.
Like everything else in life, it takes time, practice and hard work to refine your writing skills. Though I wish I could easily move from thought to publication without editing, it isn't possible because art is as much innate ability as it is hard work. Each artist has to develop her skills to make her art even better. Weak words and phrases or ones used too often need to be omitted or strengthened. Finding them can be the hardest step, and correcting them takes time, but it makes your writing stronger.


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