Writers in the Storm

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October 2, 2019

Get A Clue: You've Got to Stop Over-using This Word

by Fae Rowen

Because I've got the October 2 blog date, I get to say Happy Birthday to my mother here. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Thanks for indulging me. And for finding today's target word twice in the first sentence. "Get" and it's multi-tense derivative "got" could be nominated for one of the words everyone, not just writers, uses loosely for coming into possession of.

You could probably list a dozen or more words describing how you can come into possession of something. Some, like "obtain," are definitely too writerly to be used in general cases. "Acquire"—think acquisition— works, but can have a somewhat negative connotation as to how you've acquired something.

"Procure" or "gain" can imply that others helped or that what you got was a for personal use that could be a bit shady. (Think of procuring a prostitute.) "Secure" shows the difficulty in getting something, while "attain" is usually reserved for a commendable, difficult goal.

Our job as writers is to find the right, the best, word for every description, every bit of dialogue, and every scene. As easy substitute for get or got doesn't always work.

Take a moment to think of how I could rewrite the first sentence in this article without using got or get. Typically we use get for its brevity in the context of the sentence. What if I'd said: I'm taking advantage of today's date, October 2, to say Happy Birthday to my mother. Happy Birthday, Mom! We could spend ore time with this exercise, but that's not the main point of today's post.

I'm working on the final edits for PRISM 2: Rebellion, my follow-up science fiction book to PRISM 1: Prisoner Relocation Internment Security Management. In one scene, I noticed way too many gets. That dreaded Find editing feature revealed the truth. I had a get/got problem in the middle of my book. I'd like to share some before with you. I'm not going to share all the fixes (just the most difficult ones) because I'd like you to think about what you'd do. Sometimes, I found, the best thing to do is leave it and go on.

Often, you can remove the get or got with no other work necessary. Example: "I have to get going." Fix: "I have to go."

Example: "Where did you get the protein bar?" Fixes: "Where did you find the protein bar?" or "Who gave you the protein bar?" or "Did you steal the protein bar?"

Example: He got the message. Fixes: He received the message or He understood the message or He read around her words and understood what she couldn't write for others to see.

Example: Dinner was getting cold. Fix: The continuing argument allowed the meal to grow cold.

Example: "You got me with that puzzle map." Fix: "You confused (or bemused, or bewildered, or stumped, or beat) me with that puzzle map."

Example: "The conglomerate owner gets paid a trillion credits a year." Fix: "The conglomerate owner (grosses, pockets, earns, is paid, takes home, rakes in, nets) a trillion credits a year."

Example: "Did the police get their suspect?" Fix: "Did the police (apprehend, arrest, catch, capture, seize, take into custody, detain, put...in jail, collar, nab, bust, pick up, pull in) their suspect?

Are you seeing how getting rid of get allows you to better define not only what happens, but change the tone or put the view in a deeper POV? By taking care of your gets your writing can be stronger in many ways.

Think of how you could rewrite the following. There are a lot of possibilities for each, depending on how you perceive the situation.

I got a skimmer.

She got the flu.

I got a pain in my leg.

I got him on the phone.

She didn't get what he said.

He didn't get the joke.

We got there late.

I've like to get to see her.

She got him to go.

I'll get lunch.

Someone should get him for that.

What gets me is how mean she is.

I had to use crutches to get around.

Use a picture to get your message across.

I just wanted to get ahead.

She tried to get along with her mother-in-law.

Jim gets around.

It's not easy to get to those wires.

He had to get away from his co-worker.

Some other "get" phrases to think about: get over, get up, get together, get out, get on, get off, get lost, get down, get by, get back, get back at, get on with, get out of

I hope you see the possibility for enriching your work simply by looking at one short word. You readers will thank you for your extra effort.

Yes, today really is my mother's birthday.

Are you having trouble revising a "get" sentence from your WIP and would like to post it in the comments for suggestions? What takeaway is most useful to you about sending your "gets" to the gallows?

About Fae

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.Fae's second book in the series will be available for pre-order on Thanksgiving, 2019.

38 comments on “Get A Clue: You've Got to Stop Over-using This Word”

  1. Once a page doesn't hit you over the head with "get," Terry. I think one of the reasons this is such a subtle surprise is that we use the word so much in our everyday speech. That works when we're in a conversation because we're also using body language or tone of voice cues and context to understand what's being said.

      1. Exactly! And Mine are usually clumped together. Maybe that happens when I'm writing when I'm tired... Thanks, Terry!

    1. In the bucket of revisions, this one is a pretty easy fix, Julie. I'll take this over structural problems any day!

  2. Oh crap. Thanks a pantload, Fae. I just did a find in the book I turned in to my editor a week ago. 90k words. Get=457 Got=204 661 TOTAL!!!!

    Thanks for showing me another way to strengthen my writing. *grumbles and goes off to edit, AGAIN*

  3. I get your point...er...I mean I understand and will make good use of the knowledge you have shared with your writing community this morning.

    Oh, and Happy Birthday to your mother!

  4. Great post. I haven't checked the use in my own WIP yet but I had a lot of fun playing with your example sentences. e.g. "what gets me is how mean she is". She's such a bitch, she's meaner than a druggie going through withdrawal, she could give Cruella lessons, she has a PhD in psychological warfare. Loads of fun.

    1. Yes, Virginia! Isn't it fun to find much better ways to describe and pull in your readers?

  5. I did a search on my WIP and had no examples of get or got. However, my overused word is "just". The point is not the specific word, but figuring out which words are your own personal trap.

    1. And doesn't everyone have those, Ann? "Just" is one of those filter words that we use in speech and it becomes transparent in our writing.

  6. That's what I love about AutoCrit. Without criticism, it simply lists overused words, according to its database of literature and stories (or its non-fiction database, if you pick that option).

    I then choose what I want to change, what I did on purpose. I always find my brain slipped a few easy - but repetitive - things in, and then make better selections.

    1. Great idea, Alicia. It's easy to overuse favorite words for awhile, kind of like eating an ice cream cone every day until you switch to brownies!

      1. I catch myself more often than not now - which is why I am a firm proponent of ruthless self-editing - but you can't keep second-guessing yourself as you write; it tends to distract you from flow.

        1. Absolutely. At some point you have to declare your editing, your book, finished. Otherwise, you'll never publish or at best, you'll get that one book published posthumously. Yipes!

          1. The first book IS published, and I have some wonderful reviews, including a couple from editors. It's the middle book of the trilogy that is benefiting from my improved skills. The first one took fifteen years (I'm very slow, due to chronic illness), and this one should not take more than five - and maybe the final book will be even faster!

  7. Love this post. I notice get is usually paired with ‘to’. Both are distancing words. Replacing get (and all its pesky friends) creates opportunity to deepen. Silver linings... thanks Fae.

  8. I wouldn't worry about it. I didn't even notice it in your first sentence until I read on to your mention of it. Finding synonyms for “get” and other such short oft-used words is like doing the same for “said”, an exercise some mandate but others condemn.

    I don't see the frequent use of a word as necessarily a problem. Words don't wear out, after all. I was bemused when Wordle first appeared years ago and writers simply assumed it was bad to use ANY word more often than others. I think we writers already have more than enough ways to torment our selves!

    1. You're right, John. There are a number of words that seem to be invisible to readers, like said and get. Sometimes it's easier to leave them, but I believe that their frequent use steals our opportunity, as writers, to deepen our stories. Amen...don't we torment ourselves enough!

      1. The word's length may also be a factor. “Said” and “get” are short and monosyllabic. A longer word would probably be more noticeable. Nonetheless, I must say I do search for and cut unnecessary “haves” and “hads” from my writing, though without replacing them.

        1. I like that cut-without-replacement idea, John. When I began writing, I tried to be perfect to the verb tense of the situation, but, honestly, the double-had got me pulling out newer grammar texts.

    1. You'll be find, Wendy. It really isn't as bad as it seems it might be. Occasional uses aren't a problem; it's in those groupings of many uses within a scene or chapter that we've lost focus on delivering specific details to enhance our story.

  9. Fae, this is a good one! I remember one of my early editors would circle words on the page (yes, this was on paper) and draw lines connecting the same word so I could see how I overused it. Thanks!

    1. My teachers did the same thing, James! I've caught myself more than once in a first draft overusing a "favorite" word, let alone a virtually transparent one. For me, it's like being on guard duty in the military—look out for the same word, the same pattern, and question why I've used it.

  10. I had an English teacher, somewhere along the way, who gave verbal slaps for using get/got instead of tenses from "to have."

    I feel guilty every time I say the on-trend phrase: "You got this."


  11. Yipes, Denise! As a math teacher, I'm not sure what a "verbal slap" is, but I hope I never did that to my students. Don't feel guilty about giving encouragement, even if the current favorite wouldn't pass muster with that English teacher!

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