Crutch Words Become Active Verbs

Watching is just a really boring verb.  If you cut it, you can almost always use a cooler verb that paints a clearer picture.”- Naomi Hughes

Crutch words, we all have them, the problem is they are different for each writer, so how do we identify them?  What is a crutch word?  It’s our writing tic, the words we overuse.  In this post I will teach one way to identify crutch verbs and how to replace them with words readers will find more interesting.

Step 1:  Identifying Crutch Verbs
My go-to word is “back.”  My characters walk back, go back, look back, it’s plumb crazy, and honestly, boring.  How did I identify my crutch word?  I built a wordle at Tagxedo.  Just click “create” then add the text of your entire novel, or go chapter by chapter, it’s up to you.  Here’s a list of crutch words writers tend to repeat from Writers Helping Writers (scroll down until you find the PDF titled “Crutch Words).

This is embarrassing, but here is my wordle for my 7th draft of my work in progress.  What crutch words do you see?

Draft 7

My stomach just did a flip flop, I’ve got a lot to work on, but it appears I have fixed my “back” problem.  Now I will address the following crutch words:  looked, walked, and turned.

Step 2:  Replace Crutch Verbs with Active Verbs
1.  Use the “find” feature on your word processor and look up one of your crutch words.
2.  Refer to the Writers Helping Writers List to find another, more exciting verb and use it to replace your crutch word, see my examples below.

Example 1:  Looked
“I stayed with him, watching the sun disappear from the sky and when I looked back to where he had been, he was gone and I was alone.”
I stayed with him as the sun disappeared from the sky.  After the last sliver of light sunk below the horizon, I glanced in his direction, but he was gone, and I was once again alone.”

Example 2:  Walked
“Behind her walked the surfer and I felt my heart fall straight into my gut, right on top of the cheerios I had just eaten.”
“Behind her the surfer sauntered.  My heart fell into my gut, right on top of the cheerios I had eaten for breakfast.”

Example 3:  Turned
“We had reached my door when I turned to look at him, curious if he really meant what he was saying.”
“We had reached my door when I peeked at him, curious to see if he really meant what he was saying.”

May we all tighten our writing and make it more succinct, keeping our readers reading instead of getting hung up on overused words.

Do I “Tell” Too Much?


“Show vs. Tell,” that’s a phrase we hear a lot on the writing circuit, but as a new writer it can be hard to identify those places where we need to show more.  Here are two easy steps to help you “show” your story, giving your readers a chance to step inside your pages.

Step 1:  Do a search for emotion-themed words
I recently finished an excellent book called Deep Point of View by Marcy Kennedy where she recommends doing a search for “emotion-themed” words in your manuscript.  At the end of this post you will find a list of words you can search for in your work in progress.

Step 2:  “Show” the emotion instead of “Telling” the reader about the emotion
Now that you have identified your “emotion” words, what do you do with them?  How do you turn them into something a reader can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell?  I like to use the Emotional Thesaurus.  Here’s an example of how to turn a “show” into a “tell.”

  • Telling Sentence:
    1. “Jeremy’s forearms flexed as he removed the saddle from off my horse.  I was so in love with him.”
    2. I “told” you Sarah was  in love with him.  Let’s see how I can “show” you she is in love with him.
  • Identify the Emotion:  love
  • Identify What Love Looks Like (This is where the Emotional Thesaurus comes in handy.  It has many examples, I just chose three for the sake of convenience.)
    1. Physical Signals
      1. hard to breathe
    2. Internal Sensations
      1. fluttering feeling in the stomach
    3. Mental Responses
      1. unaware of surroundings
  • Now I can write a sentence to “show” how Sarah feels about Jeremy:
    1. “Jeremy’s forearms flexed as he removed the saddle from off my horse.  The muscle definition on his tan arms caused my stomach to flutter, and I had a hard time drawing a breath.   Stepping out of his way, I tripped over a grain bucket.”

Wasn’t that fun!  Maybe he’ll reach for her hand, or even better, she’ll fall and he’ll catch her with those sexy cowboy arms.

Another great resource I would recommend is a video clip by Ellen Brock on “Showing vs. Telling.”  Ellen is a freelance editor with a great series of short messages on YouTube for writers.  I recommend giving them all a view, she is A-mazing!  Another book by Marcy Kennedy I recommend is, Showing and Telling in Fiction.

Don’t forget to check out the list of “emotion themed” words below.

Happy writing!


List of Words That “Tell” Emotion

adoration, afraid, agitated or agitation, alarmed, amazed or amazement, amused, angry or anger, anguish, annoyed or annoyance, anticipation, anxious or anxiety, ashamed

bitter, bored

calm, cautious, cheerful, comfortable, compassion, concerned, confident or confidence, conflicted, confused or confusion, contempt, curious or curiosity

defeated or defeat, defensive or defensiveness, denial, depressed or depression, desire, desperate or desperation, determined or determination, disappointed or disappointment, disbelief, disgust or disgusted, disillusioned, dismayed, disoriented, distrust, doubt or doubtful, dread

eager or eagerness, elated or elation, embarrassed or embarrassment, enthusiastic, envy or envious, excited or excitement, exhausted

fear, frustrated or frustration

grateful, gratitude, grief, grumpy, guilt or guilty

happy or happiness, hateful or hatred, helpless, hesitant, hopeful or hopeless or hopefulness, horrified, hostile, humiliated or humiliation, hurt

impatient or impatience, indifferent or indifference, insecure or insecurity, insulted, interested, irritated or irritation

jealous or jealousy, joyful

lonely or loneliness, love


nervous or nervousness, nostalgic or nostalgia, numb

optimistic, outraged, overwhelmed

panic, paranoid or paranoia, peaceful or peacefulness, pity, proud or pride

rage, regret or regretful, rejected, relaxed, relief or relieved, reluctant or reluctance, remorse or remorseful, resentful or resentment, resigned or resignation, restless, revulsion

sad or sadness, satisfied or satisfaction, scorn or scornful, self-conscious, shame, shock or shocked, skeptical or skepticism, smug or smugness, somber or somberness, sorrowful, spiteful, stressed, stunned, surprise or surprised, suspicion or suspicious, sympathy or sympathetic

terror, tired

uncertainty, uncomfortable, unease


wary or wariness, weary, worry or worried