Ripping out “Seems”

Amber in tree finalA few years ago I read a novel in which the characters “blew out a breath” so often, I started counting the times the phrase showed up. Needless to say, I was distracted from following the plot. That experience made me a little paranoid about over-used words and phrases. While revising each of my books, I’ve discovered a unique verbal habit for that manuscript. In my work in progress, I suddenly noticed that “seemed” cropped up too frequently. (I almost wrote, “I seemed to use seem too often.”) I did a search and found that forms of this word occurred an appalling ninety-seven times. My books are longer than the standard mystery, but even with over a hundred thousand words, this struck me as too many seems. Why was this word infesting my manuscript?

Characters seemed to have certain emotions. Avoiding head-hopping, staying in the point of view of one character, I slipped into this weak way of describing her perceptions. In revisions, I worked for more vivid and specific descriptions.

At other times, I used seemed when a more direct word would do. If my protagonist thinks a certain problem is recurring too often, she doesn’t have to think that it seems to happen too much. She’s Southern and raised to be polite, so she might careful in her spoken words, but I didn’t need evasive, roundabout wording in her thoughts. It made her sound indecisive or lacking confidence, and she’s not.

Sometimes, I needed to convey that an appearance or impression was uncertain. “He seemed honest, but was he?” I left some of those seems in place and replaced others with alternative words and phrases.

There are now only thirty-one seems and the story still holds together. (Pun intended.)

Fellow writers, what are some of those pesky words that you have to prune? Readers, do you ever get snagged on things like this is in a book?

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Amber Foxx is the author of the award-winning Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series. The fifth book is in progress and seems to be is going well.