Editing Tip # 1: Why your Pet Phrases might need to be put down:

Pet phrases are frequently-used expressions that slip into our writing without us even noticing. These repeated phrase are at best unnecessary and at worst distracting to readers.

Pet phrases are words that we like to write. A lot. Most of the time we don’t even notice writing them. Even if you’re looking out for them, they can take a lot of discipline to find.

See how I used ‘even’ three times in those paragraphs? You probably found it annoying and it might’ve distracted you from the key message. This can happen when you overuse pet phrases. With every repeated utterance, readers focus less on your story and more on your words. This is bad because the writer’s goal is to immerse readers into their story’s world and if readers are constantly jarred by your writing this becomes a whole lot harder.

Common Pet Phrases:

Everyone has different Pet Phrases. However, some common ones that seem to crop up everywhere. Here’s a list of these weed-like Pet Phrases:

·       Only

·       Very

·       Even

·       Really

·       Big

·       Too

Just like with weeds, everyone’s writing has different levels of Pet-Phrase-Infestation, depending on your altitude, weather conditions and climate zone. Or something like that. My metaphor may have tugged me on a tangent there, but anyways my point is that not everyone uses the same Pet Phrases and that’s where the next step comes in.

Identifying your Pet Phrases:

Finding overused expressions in your writing is no easy task. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place! The only way to find Pet Phrases is to read your story. When you find an expression that seems a little overused – perhaps you used ‘very’ three times in one paragraph – chances are you’ve found a pet phrase. Write it down.

With enough careful reading, you’ll soon have a list of your Pet Phrases. Chances are you overuse these expressions in all your writing, not just one story. With Pet Phrases, awareness is half the solution: once you know what your Pet Phrases are, you won’t use them as much in the future.

How to rip out Pet Phrases like the no-good weeds they are:

The good news is that once you find one Pet Phrase you can weed out the rest. How? Well, there’s two ways. The first is to manually read through your entire manuscript and change each use of your Pet Phrase.

The easier way is to use your word processor’s ‘Find’ feature and type in the Pet Phrase you want to search for. For example, the other day I’d overused ‘himself’ in my work-in-progress novel. I used ‘Find’ to highlight all 60 instances of ‘himself’ in my story and I deleted about half of them in ten minutes. I kept some ‘himself’s because they were necessary (and this is a key point: you don’t need to delete every Pet Phrase). Technology is your friend. Use it. If you don’t know how to use the ‘Find’ feature, learn. It will save you hours.

To wrap things up, Pet Phrases won’t torpedo your novel. They will, however, stop it from being as good as it could be and are so easy to fix – so get out there and start weeding!

What are your thoughts on Pet Phrases? Can you think of any other common ones? What are your Pet Phrases? I’d love to hear your feedback!


4 thoughts on “Editing Tip # 1: Why your Pet Phrases might need to be put down:

  1. Pingback: Editing Tip #6: Prioritise Macro Edits over Micro Edits – Jed Herne: Writer

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