Sorry, I know it's been a while since the first post on crutch words. Sometimes I get caught up in other things and neglect my poor little blog.
This post will include crutch words and phrases of a different sort. These are those placeholders that a lot of authors end up putting in to avoid dialogue tags. Things like:
They shook their heads.
There are other words that fall into this category. Now, are these words and phrases all forbidden? No. But you need to be careful about how you use them, and how frequently. A little bit goes a long way. However, if you have your characters nodding and shaking their heads to everything, they're going to look a little ridiculous.
In most cases, these phrases aren't necessary, especially when you're using them instead of a dialogue tag. You can often infer disagreement from the dialogue itself. On the other hand, if you want to emphasize an odd reaction, have a character's body language not match their words. That's a great way to add tension and mystery to a scene. In most cases, though, that's not how writers use these words. They're placeholders more than anything. I include them in the first draft, then cut quite a few of them as I revise.
Another place to use them: silent communication. Sometimes a character simply nods to indicate agreement. That's okay, and you should show that. But don't do this:
He nodded. "I agree."
You're telling us the same thing twice. It's not the strongest writing. If you can't find a suitable action to tag the dialogue, it's okay to use a dialogue tag. It's true that most readers barely notice the word said. Usually, they notice it only if you have a lot of them in a row, with nothing to spice up the writing. Note: nodding and shaking heads generally don't spice up the writing. They're boring.
A few other phrases to watch for: he looked, he glanced, and of course any filtering words (but that's a matter for another post).
Hope this helps others in their editing process.