if it’s too difficult for grown-ups, write for children

“Smirk”, and other words to avoid

brucewillisOne of my authors just got a revision letter from her editor, and I was looking over it, and noticed the following comment:

Please avoid use/overuse of the word “smirk.” This is a description I see in the work of many new writers and I firmly believe that smirking is less common in the world than it appears to be from reading manuscripts. This is one of those expressions that should be used rarely and only when it fits perfectly, such as in describing Bruce Willis’s face.

I have to admit, I hadn’t noticed an overabundance of smirking when reading the novel myself, but that’s why I’m an agent and not an awesome, detail-oriented editor.

But “smirk” is just one of those words that gets used a lot, along with “shrugged” and “nodded”, at least as far as I’ve noticed. What other words have you found yourself overusing? They’re harder to find, I think — or at least not as obvious as bigger cliches that new writers often fall prey to, like starting a manuscript with a character waking up or looking in a mirror to describe him- or herself.

Let me know your favorite overused words in the comments!

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