Conference Challenge #8 – Overused Terms

Hello, it’s Friday! I know what you’re saying, “Well, duh…we’ve been waiting for a challenge for two days. We know what day it is. Do you?”

I do now.

This was all done on purpose. We wanted to give you time to catch up on the seven other challenges so you are ready for our eighth and final one. Okay, maybe not, but we do want as many people as possible to qualify for the raffle. There’s a fabulous literary treat-filled basket just waiting for a new home. Remember to comment in the corresponding challenge post.

This week’s challenge is actually the brainchild of the lovely Laura Bowers, so don’t give me credit for it. You can, however, totally blame me for the execution of this great idea! And no, despite the previous sentence, this is not an exercise on double entendres.

Ever read through a draft of your book and roll your eyes at how many times you use the same word or phrase? I have. When I think of it, I just roll my eyes in frustration. Even my friend and mentor rolled her eyes after she saw how many times I used it. You’d think I could come up with another way to convey teenage annoyance. Well I couldn’t. By the end of my novel, there was so much eye rolling you’d think I was writing about a Linda Blair convention. All that was missing was the head spinning and the…never mind.

“We get it, Susan. Moving on. Oh, and btw…the Linda Blair reference? Totally dating yourself.”  Now that would have been a good challenge! Dated references!

So, here’s the challenge: First, go through a draft of either a current work or previous one and search for the terms you tend to overuse. Next, pick one and write a nasty paragraph containing that term at least twice. If you’re feeling particularly gnarly, use it three or four times. Finally, rewrite the same paragraph without it, but still conveying the same emotions or descriptions you intended. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a piece of great literature. At all. Have fun with it and then post what you’ve done here.

Illustrators, I tried to channel my inner Chieu, but of course came up empty. When your artistic skills consist of stick figures and not being able to draw a straight line, even with a ruler, coming up with something for you talented folks is near impossible. You get a free pass this week, which means – Congratulations! You are done! If not, now you have extra time to tackle the challenges you haven’t gotten to yet.

Okay, friends. Have at it and have fun! This time next week we will be on the eve of our conference. Can’t believe how fast the time has gone!

Have a great weekend!


About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
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13 Responses to Conference Challenge #8 – Overused Terms

  1. There are a couple of places on the web where you can dump your text into a word cloud generator. What you get is a graphic representation of the words used most frequently in the text–the bigger the word, the more you use it. I’ve used them to help identify some of my overused phrases. It’s pretty sad when the word “just” is one of the biggest words in the cloud. (Of course, if you’ve done a good editing job already, it can also help to show major themes of the book.)

    (PS, I keep having trouble leaving this comment, so if it ends up posting a gazillion times, I apologize for that.)

  2. Oh, I’m glad I’m not the only one who just loves to use the word “just!” Every time I finish a rough draft, the first thing I have to do is go through and do a search for “just,” so I can delete 90% of the occurrences 🙂 I’ll try to look for a different overused phrase for this challenge, though.

  3. Shirley Menendez says:

    I find myself using the word “well,” too often. Well, I did this…or that. I just did a search of “well” on a story I’m working on and the word jumped out at me on several pages. It is a totally unnecessary word so at least it’s easy to delete.

  4. valeriebelievinginhorses says:

    Well and just – two of my faves, too. However, I realize I also have a problem with unecessary modifiers at the beginning or sentences, particularly dialogue. So I picked one from my WIP, got “gnarly” with it, as Susan suggested, and it’s particularly awful. (The original only included one “Hmmm”). But as I rewrote it, a few more obviously jumped out, that needed to go and tightened up the paragraph without sacrificing much. Here goes:
    -“Hmmm, I guess I didn’t see it that way. Sorry, maybe I’m not so sure of this whole horse psychotherapy thing,” Dad responded. “Hmmm, but since it’s so important to you all, I’m here. Hmmm, so what do you think, Austin?”
    -“I guess I didn’t see it that way. Maybe I’m not so sure of this whole horse psychotherapy thing,” Dad responded. “But since it’s so important to you all, I’m here. What do you think, Austin?”

    • susanmannix says:

      Hmmm…that’s very interesting! Sorry, I had to! Not only is the result funny when you make the effort to use the overused words, it becomes clear how unnecessary they are. Not that you can’t use them at all, just not so much that they overrun your story…like weeds in a garden. And I am good at growing weeds!

  5. Pingback: Conference Challenge Wrap Up! « As the Eraser Burns

  6. I didn’t want to use “just” as my overused word, because it’s so common (and I really have gotten better about not using it in every single paragraph I write), but I had a hard time deciding what word I overuse the second most often. The word cloud generators weren’t much help (either I entered my text wrong, or I’m getting better at editing. Proper names were my biggest words in the word clouds!) As usual, I decided to take the challenge over the top. I wrote a paragraph using not one, but 3 of my highly overused words: “but,” “really” and the old favorite “just.”

    Katie really just wanted everyone to just leave her alone so she could just listen to her music in peace. But no matter where she went, someone else was there to bother her with annoying questions and “helpful” suggestions. She tried going to her bedroom, but her little sister was already in there, blasting “Old McDonald Had a Farm” as loud as her Kidz Rock portable music player would allow. Katie tried the attic, but Mom was up there, doing her annual spring cleaning. She tried the living room, but her brother was playing his annoying video game again. She thought about the crawl space under the stairs, but she didn’t know what kind of creepy, crawly bugs might be already crawling in there. She just really needed a space of her own. The house really was just way too crowded.

    It’s pretty terrible. – The writing is convoluted and unclear, and it doesn’t really convey my story. The rewrite is a lot better, I think:

    Katie needed some time alone to think. The band wanted her new song by tomorrow, and she was only halfway through to the bridge. She couldn’t concentrate in the bedroom she shared with her annoying baby sister, Angela, who played “Old McDonald Had a Farm” nonstop on her Kidz Rock portable music player. The attic was out of the question, unless she wanted to help Mom sort through boxes of old clothes and answer endless questions about last night’s gig. Her ten-year-old brother, Ben, hogged the living room, playing Alien Zappers at full volume.

    She thought about turning the crawl space under the stairs into her own private music room. Unfortunately, it was too small to be comfortable, and she didn’t even want to think about the bugs and spiders that might already be crawling there. Katie sighed and slumped onto the front porch steps. This house was much too crowded.

    • susanmannix says:

      This is well done…on both side. Using three overused words is a real feat when you actually have to think about. The re-write was great and painted a much clearer and more colorful picture.

      See you tomorrow!

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