I don’t know about other writers, but I have my crutch words, words which continually show up in my writing even though they aren’t wanted or needed. Most notably is the word that, a commonly overused word by writers.
Right now, I am revising the first draft of Maid of Murder’s sequel, and that is running rampant through the manuscript, which is okay… at this point. When I write the first draft of my novels, I don’t worry about that, although I know it’s lurking throughout the piece. If I stopped and worried about it in the first draft, I would stall and lose the story playing over and over again in my head and my fingers are itching to type. After many years of writing and revising, I know my process well enough to know the first draft is a train wreck and not something I would want my editor to read. It’s not until the fourth or fifth drafts do I see my novels as passable.
Not long ago, I visited a college class to speak about my writing experience. The class was wonderful, and the students had many good questions about writing and the creative process. However out of the class, the comment which stuck with me the most was one the professor made. She said, “You write how I tell my students to write… You write how you speak but with an eraser.” I don’t think she realized how true her statement was. My protagonist in Maid of Murder, India Hayes, sounds very similar to how I speak in my everyday life. I’m not saying she is a direct replica of me. For one, we don’t share the same temperament, but we do have the same working vocabulary and grammar. These are not examples of perfect English; they are examples of regional dialect (or as much as you can have in Middle America) and life experience. If India always spoke or thought with perfect grammar, she would not only sound odd, she would be contrived. But at the same time as a fictional character who needs to keep the plot moving, what she thinks or says needs to serve the story in some way. This is where my eraser comes in. I say many extraneous words when I speak. I’m sure I say the word that a lot if it appears in my writing so often, but in the revision process I go back and remove/erase those extra words from India’s speech and thoughts. As a result, the dialogue is a crisper, more purposeful version of our (India’s and mine) everyday speech.
Now, I’m off to hunt down some thats. Wish me luck!