Originally Posted by Steven Lake
My two biggest issues were overusing words, or one particular word too many times, such as the word "nodded", and also over explaining things. ... the problem of excessively repeating words, was solved by putting together a rule in my head that no words, unless absolutely critical to grammar, can be reused in any sentence or piece of dialog for at least 3-5 sentences. So if I used the word "nodded", to go back to an earlier example, I couldn't use it again for at least 3-5 sentences, or in some cases I even restrict myself to not using it again for the entire page, unless absolutely needed. Oddly enough, those two rules have actually helped improve my writing by forcing me to be creative by leaving no room to be lazy.
In general the re-use of words is a personal bug up my own ass. It's like a skip in a record reading the same phrasing or words in close proximity.
I was watching Louie Theroux's show on porn stars and he was on set. I paraphrase but the girl said "What are we going to do about this? My father will never allow this." and the director pulled her on it, "The line is, 'What are we going to do about it? My father will never allow this.' You can't use this and this straight after like that." Made my night. Also, everybody was naked so bonus.
If you used "nodded" more than once a chapter I'd probably be unhappy. Some words you only get to use once a book. The exception being if you're trying to deliberately drive home a point by using the same word several times in succession.
I highlighted an important point there. These rules improve writing immeasurably.
The other rules are to avoid -ly words and reduce to nothing the use of "be words" like "is, are, was, were" to avoid making your writing passive.
But I'm pretty obsessive and read a deal of slush so I've become more sensitive over the years.
Oh, I remembered another "it was like.." or "it was as if" - if you're using those in a sentence you're doing it wrong. Also avoid diminishing your point by saying stuff like "he might have..." or "it could have been..." - "if... then..." is almost always better.