Counting how many times I use REALLY, VERY, WAS, FELT, THOUGHT, and all those other, pesky, weak words.

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I copied my work-in-progress (a horror novel) into a web app that counts the number of times I used each word. As I expected, words like the, a, and the characters’ names popped up a lot. However . . .

During my initial self-editing process, I had tried to get rid of most of the weak words, you know, the words all those helpful writing websites warn you about. (References below.) Specifically, I tried to reduce the number of times I used:

  • a lot
  • actually
  • basically
  • began
  • believed
  • down
  • felt
  • heard
  • huge
  • just
  • knew
  • large
  • little
  • looked
  • many
  • mostly
  • noticed
  • probably
  • quite
  • ran
  • rather
  • realized
  • really
  • saw
  • seemed
  • some
  • started
  • that
  • then
  • thought
  • totally
  • up
  • very
  • virtually
  • walked
  • was
  • were
  • wondered

For example, if I had a sentence like, “The child walked across the road,” I’d substitute, “The child lurched across the road.” After all, she was a zombie.

For a sentence like, “He felt guilty for missing curfew,” I’d substitute, “He shifted from one foot the the other and fiddled with the buttons on his shirt.”

The results:

My self-editing paid off in some places, but not all. I was left with very few very’s and really no really’s, thought’s, or felt’s. But what verb showed up more frequently than any other? Was it said because the book has plenty of dialogue? Noooo. It was was, to the tune of 1000 repetitions!

Aw, fudge.

That means I was telling instead of showing, or I was using passive voice (gasp!). It wasn’t a pleasant chore, but I went through the manuscript and rewrote a bazillion sentences. I left the was’s in dialogue because people do talk that way. And I left the was’s in minor descriptions: “It was eight o’clock.” But I beefed up the other sentences with stronger, showing verbs.

Instead of, “She was sad,” I’d substitute something like, “Her breath came in hitches. She blew her nose. A minute passed before she spoke again.”

Using a web app to count the number of times I used each word was an eye-opening experience. I recommend trying it:
https://www.online-utility.org/text/frequent_words.jsp
Or a simpler app with shorter results: https://wordcounter.net

And here are three references explaining why we need to curtail the number of weak words we use in our fiction:
https://dianaurban.com/words-you-should-cut-from-your-writing-immediately
https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/filter-words-in-fiction-purposeful-inclusion-and-dramatic-restriction
Lakin, C.S., et al. 5 Editors tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws. Ubiquitous Press, 2015.

Happy writing!

66 thoughts on “Counting how many times I use REALLY, VERY, WAS, FELT, THOUGHT, and all those other, pesky, weak words.

  1. The editing nightmare! I’ve never used that site, or any other for word repetition count, but after my first editor gave me a wake up call to all the -ly words I had swimming in my book, I started paying attention. I also cut filter words that escape when i’m drafting and do rewrite a million sentences as well. Thanks for sharing those links, I’m sure going to try them out.

    Liked by 1 person

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