Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

You’ve just finished your novel and all you have to do now is just go through it and just find those words that you just slip in all the time without even noticing.

We all have our comfort words or phrases that we can’t help using, but it’s wheedling them out and finding a suitable replacement that can be tricky at times. Even for novels that have been through the edits process and made it to publication can be guilty of repetition – think of a particularly current erotic trilogy where eye rolling and lip biting seem to happen all the time.

At Romaniac HQ we were discussing our comfort words/phrases and thought we would share them with you.

Would love to know what yours are 🙂


It’s amazing how these words creep unnoticed into the manuscript. I was aware of previous criminal over use of ‘back’, ‘here’ and ‘although’, and managed to limit them in Follow Me, however, I’ve developed a habit for ‘could’, ‘only’, ‘besides’, ‘thought’ and ‘look’.

My characters have glanced, glowered, gazed, scowled and stared, but mostly they looked. There was a ‘look’ on every page. Sometimes two. My worst example: Four. Yes. Four looks on one page. That’s asking for eye-strain. I spent two days finding alternatives for my word crimes, but sometimes a look is just that. A look.


I’m a devil for using the word ‘just’, I can’t believe how many times I threw it in there! Most of the time it wasn’t needed. Another one of my crimes, not so much a word but a description. My poor hero spent an inordinate amount of time winking and looking amused. I swear, in my current WIP my heroine is never going to notice the amused look on the hero’s face again. Nor are his eyes going to smile, alone or otherwise and as for my heroine experiencing another frisson, well, it just isn’t going to happen. Ever.

Oh no, I’ve done it here – put the word ‘just’ in – old habits die hard 😦


I’m a looker too… Well, not me but my characters – looking, glancing and gazing at each other all day long, I’m amazed they manage to do anything else. And like Sue, I have favourite, over-used mannerisms for my characters – one character in my latest chews her lip so much I don’t see how she can have any lips left. The previous book had a nail biter who must have ended up with bloody stumps at the end of her wrists she chewed so much in the first draft…

But my worst crime – and I’d like to point out that this was a long time ago and I’m VERY careful to avoid this now – is the eyes with lives of their own. In a very early draft of a very early MS, now hidden away in a drawer, I have characters that roll their eyes at other characters, clumsy characters who drop their eyes all over the place and one particularly gruesome scene where someone caressed someone else – WITH HIS EYES. Imagine the mess, the pain…


STILL she JUST doesn’t know what to do about THAT NOW – I thought I’d throw my overused words into a sentence. I’m also bad at throwing in unneeded directional words like BACK, UP, DOWN. I’m also a terror for clustering together repeat words (spot the mistake) in a paragraph. I look (that one’s for you girls) at individual lines and sometimes neglect to notice that I have three uses of DOOR in a few lines.


THOUGHT, PONDERED, WONDERED, MUSED – honestly, some of my characters could have circumnavigated the globe they’ve spent THAT much time WONDERING. Or was it WANDERING? As for repetition, well, they’ve ducked, dived, gulped, frowned and  giggled their way through many a scene. And as for the word JUST, well, let’s JUST say, like Sue, I’m JUST a complete sucker for it… 

Celia: My big problem is with ‘that’. The times that I use that are way too many, I know that I shouldn’t, but it’s the word that I like best of all and that’s a fact. I think I’m getting over that hurdle now though, there are lots of other words that I could use instead, and I know that it’s just a matter of time before all those thats are a thing of the past. Was that ok, chaps?

Oh, and my other one is ‘as’. As in ‘As he walked into the room’, or ‘She bit her lip as he tied her to the bed post.’ But that’s another book.

And finally – not a word really but I get semi-colon frenzy. I’ve had to cull most of them recently but the sign in  the picture needs one desperately. ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

20 thoughts on “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

    • Hi Elle – reading the comments I realise I’m guilty of far more than I’ve confessed above. Dashes… ellipses… oh yes – guilty, guilty guilty! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
      Vanessa x

  1. “Then” – whole sentences have had to be sacrificed to avoid including yet another “then” in it … not “than” … sequential then. Also, strangely “fall” my characters always “fall” into each others arms so often they must be getting vertigo by now and their eyes “fall” on something on the desk … yuk, messy.

    I’m so glad it isn’t just me, but then we all have our foibles … dammit I just did it again; I will fall out with myself at this rate!

    • Ooh – someone else with falling eyes! With every comment, I’m nodding and agreeing – I’m guilty of overusing all of these words!!
      Vanessa x

  2. Oh, I’m terrible at this! Just and really and anyway are my biggest sins – and f*** which I search and replace as much as possible but I do leave quite a few in.

    • Thanks, Phillipa – finding out other writers are as guilty as us is making me feel much better!
      Vanessa x

  3. However.And too many semi-colons, coz I think they’re impressive and I had an editor who didn’t know how to use them and I enjoyed annoying her. And ‘and ‘. Oh dear.

    • Hi Carol. Ooh – semi-colons. I loooooove semi-colons. I always end up adding more of them rather than editing them out!
      Vanessa x

    • Oh yes, nothing to feel guilty about, Jane – I think every paragraph should have AT LEAST one dash and several ellipses…
      Vanessa x

  4. I’m guilty of overusing the humble exclamation point. My poor characters are shouting so much, they must be permanently hoarse. Well, not anymore because I’ve calmed them down. There is, however, a lot of wailing going on. If it’s not wailing, it’s howling. I don’t really know why, seeing as that I write funny, upbeat comedy. Hm. I’ve developed a love relationship with the search-and-replace function and my thesaurus, that’s for sure. Great post, as always!

  5. Can I say its ‘just’ ‘that’ my character ‘seem’ or ‘appear’ to do everything because my novel is only seen from the heroine’s POV. Oh, and everyone starts off ‘going to’ do something instead of just doing it. I had a laugh with lovely Jan before an RNA party because I felt my hero was developing a nervous tick from the number of wry expressions he pulled – not to mention his mouth quirking in a smile. All eradicated on subsequent read throughs. LOL. Phew.

  6. Posted on behalf of Wendy Loveday: JUST, ONLY and VERY are my faves. I use them a lot, most particularly on my first draft, (and especially in the write a novel in a week challenge) where I do the whole \’Don\’t get it right, get it written,\’ thing, then I use the \’find\’ button and try to take out as many of the little devils as I can. Is it JUST me or does anyone else do the same? And how tedious is it? VERY VERY tedious! Oh!!! and exclamation marks, (apparently the sign of a badly written piece of work) should be restricted to a maximum of three (yes, ONLY three!!!) per 50,000 words. My find button has been VERY busy recently!

  7. Oh dear I can see I am going to have to go through my book again! I used to be a ‘just’ person now it is ‘again’, and oh yes, how many times do my characters ‘wonder; too many – just as with the semi colons. But aren’t they ok?
    Describing how people are looking or glancing – I have just written that very scene between lawyer and prisoner. Anyone like to help out with an alternative?

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