Writing: Overused Words + Dangling Modifiers

I’ve been up to my elbows in pre-edits. Yes, I found a publisher to work on a mystery with me. Yay!

What are pre-edits?

When an author goes through their manuscript one last time, incorporating corrections to meet the minimum requirements of a publishing house. This time the request was to clean up any overused words and dangling modifiers.

Overused words:

If you do an internet search for overused words in fiction writing you’ll land up with a list common to most writers. The trick is to keep adding to it to make the list specific to you.

I won’t bore you my list, but I will share some words I have trouble with:

I, you, is, are, was, were, that, there, got, get… the list goes on

Some overused words let the writer know they are telling rather than showing:

See, hear, taste, feel, touch, smellΒ  (and all their variations)

Its all about how you express yourself. Some of us are more flowery than others art pixabay CC0 lotusand word choices will reflect it. If you find a word repeated more than once every four pages consider it an overused word.

Find them and rewrite the sentence.

I was recently reading James Patterson, a personal favorite, and was surprised when I started counting how often some of my overused word showed up in his work. Where I would have the word in every paragraph, sadly not an exaggeration, he’d use it once on a page.

Explains the pay grade, doesn’t it. πŸ™‚

Dangling modifiers

Frozen, they all ran for cover.

Do you see the problem there?

If all are frozen how are they running for cover?

Or how about.

The boy threw the ball running after it.

You’ll notice that in this case the ball is doing the running.

Modifiers enhance the meaning of the noun/verb it’s beside.

The boy, running, threw the ball.


The running boy threw the ball.

Again not perfect. Look past how clumsy it is and note the placement.

Any advice you’d care to share? Anything I missed. Don’t be shy. I’m here to learn. πŸ™‚

Gleaned from:

30 responses to “Writing: Overused Words + Dangling Modifiers

  1. Congrats! I have the same problem with overused words. I tend to overuse that, was, were, etc. And try to keep an eye out for them by creating a word cloud. Just copy and paste my manuscript and lists all my overused words.

  2. Great tips all around Anna, thank you! And LOL, I notice lots of repetitions in my favorite authors too now. It’s harder to enjoy books once you’re so emotionally involved in the process of making them….

  3. Lovely lesson, I get hung up on certain words or phrases and have to cut them out.

  4. I use Autocrit to highlight my overused words. I’m usually stunned when I do it. If asked, I would say I didn’t! And then Autocrit objectively points out each and every one.

  5. In early drafts, I overuse “that” and “there” and so many forms of the word “look” – he looks, she looked, they are looking blah blah blah. πŸ™‚

  6. Overused words β€” oh, my yes, I have a long list. I have to pay attention to the dangling modifiers, too. Thanks for the reminder. πŸ™‚

  7. My most overused word is just. I use it a lot when I’m talking normally. I also say awesome too much, but I don’t write it! Just has a way of sneaking in on me.

  8. I love the find function in Word to help get all these overused words! I use just and especially way too much, for example. The dangling modifiers are trickier to find. Sounds like you are making your work shine πŸ™‚

  9. Those modifiers… I laugh because I totally fumbled those a few years back. All. The. Time. Just takes one good editor to smack you upside the head, eh?

  10. It’s not just Patterson. Based on my experience, almost all authors break the rules to a certain extent. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that much of an author’s voice depends on which rules they decide to follow and what percentage of the time they follow them.

    Glad you’re having fun with editing.

  11. Like Jacqui, I use AutoCrit. That way I only need to make one or two manuscript passes for overused words. My three worsts: it, were, and have. *hangs head in shame*

    VR Barkowski

  12. Good on you, Anna. You kept at it and got a publisher and now you’re doing the work of getting print-ready. It’s so exciting! I’m getting there too, padding along in your wake. Whew, it’s hard slog, huh πŸ™‚ but worth it!

  13. jenniferbielman

    Oh those modifiers!!! lol I love grammar!

  14. yup! do that all the time – my worst overused words – but, that, just – but i just can’t get enough of that! i’ve done so much better about those danglers, though =)
    have fun editing and congrats on working with a publisher!

    ps – thanks for your comment at Christine’s about Simulation!

  15. Pingback: Writing: Overused Words + Dangling Modifiers | My Passion's Pen

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