“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” — Samuel Johnson
First, consider these two cautions in using the find and replace feature of your word processor for editing:
- Look at each occurrence from the search results to make sure a change works. Automatic replacing can cause problems. For example, consider the paragraph: “He sat next to her. In his grief, he was beside himself.” If you perform a find on next to and replace all with beside, you’ll have: “He sat beside her. In his grief, he was beside himself.”
- Replace in moderation. If the change works, do it. Your aim is to reduce repetitions and weak words and phrases, not eradicate certain words.
3 Ways to Use FIND on Your Polished Manuscript
- Peruse novels or keep an eye out for well-written phrases. When you find better or more concise phrases, search for a key word that’ll lead you to your ho-hum or wordy phrase and replace the ones that need a change.
If you mention a steering wheel often while characters drive, search on “steering wheel” and try a phrase like the following I found:
Before: He turned the steering wheel and left Main Street…
After: He turned off Main…
- Check counts. If you use an individual word (other than expected high-frequency words, such as the, he, a character’s name) in an 80,000-word novel over 200 times you should work on reducing them. Once, I used up 417 times. I cut the occurrences significantly. Check the words mentioned in 3. below. Using some of these over 25 times may be too often.
To obtain a count:
- PC = option + f and enter the word
- Mac = command + f and enter word
- Scrivener (get a count on every word in your manuscript) =
- Select desired scenes
- Click on Editor screen
- Click on Project, Text Statistics, and Word Frequency
- Click on desired column to sort
- Search for these words or characters.
- Your favorite word. In one manuscript, mine was while.
- Exclamation marks. Use these for shouting in dialogue and thoughts. Your choice of words should show excitement.
- Ellipses (…)
- Filler words like uh or um.
- Weasel words such as just, very, and some. Here’s an excellent post on words, phrases, and characters to search for: Editing Your Own Writing on Darcy Andries’s website. This is a must read. It covers:
- Unnecessary and Redundant Words
- Weak Words:
- Dull Drab Diluters
- Colorless Verbs
Before sending your manuscript to a publisher, use FIND and search for these. Click to tweet.
What is the word, phrase, or character you have grossly overused in your manuscript?