July 1 – 7: “What are your crutch words – or words you’ve discovered in other writers?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week join ITW Members Boyd Morrison and J. H. Bográn as they discuss crutch words, and try to answer the question: “What are your crutch words – or words you’ve discovered in other writers?” You won’t want to miss it!


TheLochNessLegacy_800Boyd Morrison is a Seattle-based author, actor, engineer, and Jeopardy! champion. He started his career at Johnson Space Center, where he flew on NASA’s Vomit Comet, the plane used to train astronauts for zero gravity. He went on to earn a PhD from Virginia Tech, develop thirteen patents at RCA, and manage a video game testing group at Microsoft before becoming a full-time writer. His debut thriller, THE ARK, became an international bestseller and has been translated into twenty-one languages. His other thrillers include THE LOCH NESS LEGACY, THE ROSWELL CONSPIRACY, THE CATALYST, THE VAULT, and ROGUE WAVE.

Death Toll 3J. H. Bográn was born and raised in Honduras. Although he’s the son of a journalist, he ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. His debut novel TREASURE HUNT, which The Celebrity Café hails as an intriguing novel that provides interesting insight of architecture and the life of a fictional thief. FIREFALL, his second novel, is scheduled for release in September/2013 by Rebel ePublishers. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill. He lives in Honduras with his wife and three sons.

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  1. First a confession, I’m a Tyler Locke fan, so sharing the stage with Mr. Morrison is an opportunity I couldn’t pass on.

    Now, about crutches…gee, where to begin!

    As many of you already know, coming from my native language Spanish, I had to work harder to avoid crutches. Heck, at first I thought crutches were the stuff people with broken legs used to support themselves! It’d be an understatement to say I didn’t rely on them on my early drafts.

    Stopping dead on tracks, rolling eyes, taking advantage of a mirror image to describe a character’s appearance, start a scene with somebody waking up, or with a line akin to “it was stormy night;” I confess myself guilty as charged, on all counts!

    It wasn’t until I met my first editor, a blessed soul who saw past the mistakes and thought the story was worthy of investing the 1000+ hours teaching me the little nuances of the language, that I disposed of the crutches. Okay, at least the vast majority of them. Still have lots to learn.

    And then there were adverbs! The dreaded “-ly” words peppered over my manuscripts, coming out of my unknown writing laziness. Thanks to Stephen King’s On Writing, I learned of his hatred for adverbs. Although my feeling don’t run as deep, I declared war on them after yet another editor took the trouble of highlighting every single word ending with “ly”. And here’s the funny trivia bit, she later felt sorry to have terrorized me (her words, not mine) when in the next round I came back making a defense to leave the word “only” in the manuscript. 🙂

  2. J.H., for me the crutches were (I hope they’re in the past!) the sense words: smell, sound, hear, see, feel. Understanding that these words take the reader out of the story and put him in the narrator’s POV was a learning process. There ARE ways around them, and when you discover them, your writing is far more powerful.

    As for adverbs, I’m in the no-adverb camp too, though I’m not uptight about an occasional one. Ha!, that said, I just spotted a “strictly” in yesterday’s draft. Back to the drawing board–oh, and I’m opposed to cliches as well. They’re such cold potatoes.

    Enjoyed your post.

  3. Great to be with you here, Jose. I think crutch words can be an issue for any writer, especially cliche phrases. My sister gave me a T-shirt that says, “I avoid cliches like the plague.” I try to avoid them, but they’re just so easy to use that sometimes I don’t even realize they’re sneaking in. Or sometimes I want to concentrate on getting the plot down so I don’t want to spend fifteen minutes thinking of a less obvious way to say, “The warehouse was as quiet as a tomb.” Instead, I just jot down that phrase intending to go back later and spice it up. Unfortunately, sometimes it stays in, which is why I try to avoid reading the final product, or my head will explode upon seeing it.

    I also tend to overuse the word “just” to convey suspense when bullet “just misses” hitting someone. In fact, I wrote a blog a few months back about my incessant use of the word. Definitely a crutch.


    I also talk about how I regularly fall in love with an unusual word while I’m writing a novel. In one case I used the word “pristine” seven times in a novel. Now that’s not an uncommon word, but when someone reads my novel over the course of a few days, the use of that word will stand out. Since it takes me months to write a novel, I forget that I’ve used the word. I’ll get to a new chapter and want to describe something that is clean and say to myself, “You know what word I haven’t used yet? Pristine.” It’s only when I read the whole book while I’m editing that I realize it’s used over and over.

    One crutch I’ve tried to get rid of in my speaking is the use of “basically.” It conveys nothing. And don’t get me started on “like.”

  4. And I’m back for seconds.

    Jean, you’re right. I remember reading a lot of instances where character’s nostrils filled with something instead of smelling something.

    Nice blog post, Boyd, and quite appropriate to the discussion at hand.

    During the 2010’s ThrillerFest I attended a class with Steve Berry. One of the most memorable moments was when he wrote on the board a innocuous word that seemed to plague every dialog line, one that Steve himself wished were removed even form the dictionary if possible: “Well.”
    I admit I had to relook at my manuscript with a search & destroy mode, I only left it on sentences where I mean to do “well.”
    So, well, do we have another crutch?

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