There are the weasel words that every writer has to watch out for. That is an important word that really isn’t needed that much. My critique partner revels in having the most ‘that’s’ in a single chapter. Thirty-six, if I remember correctly. In the early years of my group ‘that’ was a beloved pet of all and we worked hard to leave him at home sleeping.
Other popular weasel words can include; just and was. There is nothing inherently wrong with these words. They serve an important function. But they are not needed nearly as often as we think. Weasel words can slow our writing, make it clunky, or passive. No author wants that!
The other type of pet words are our own personal favorites. Seems as though some poor girl in every story I have ‘worries her lip.’ My editor found over one hundred versions of the verb ‘pull’ in my novella. My characters also do a lot of sighing. And I love the word cacophony. I use it once in almost every book. If I ever get a faithful following, they are going to be tweeting about where cacophony is in the next release. Like the TV show Psych where the audience looked for the hidden pineapple in every episode, my readers will be on the hunt for the cacophony.
I just read this one star review for a book I was considering downloading. “Also, would be better if we weren't subjected repeatedly to the author's favorite words of the month, obsequious and susurration.” Readers can identify our pet, often much easier than we can.
Learn your breed of pet words and search for them. Word does this easily if you know your pets by name.
If you haven’t discovered them yet, Scrivener has a great feature. Under the ‘Project’ tab, find ‘Text Statistics.’ At the bottom of the word and paragraph count is a drop down for ‘Word Frequency.’ Scrivener counts how many times you have used every word within the manuscript. It may be only once, or it may be eighty-eight times in a chapter. If the multiply-used word is ‘the’ it’s probably not a problem. But if it is one of your pets, time to shoo them out and rewrite.
We all love our pets, both the four-legged furry kind and our favorite words. The words shouldn’t have a permanent home in our writings, let them lie comfortably on the warm pillows at home. Otherwise they become a distraction to our readers.