Get Rid of Got!

“Get,” “go,” and “have” are some of the most over-used verbs around, and in writing they almost always indicate the writer isn’t trying hard enough to find the right verb for the situation. Some examples:

I got Lucy into her crib.

I went to the kitchen and got a can of juice.

I got up.

The group got to town around six that night, got some dinner then got down to business of discussing the strange jar they got at the flea market.

Writers should be on the lookout for places to improve their prose. A good story can take you a great distance, but good wording is very important in taking a writer the rest of the way to success. There are plenty of books that are—honestly speaking—badly-written, but which become hugely popular anyway. That being said, my personal mantra as an editor is “don’t let your words interfere with your story.”

The verb “get” interferes in two ways. First, readers begin to trip over words they see too many times, and “got” is one of the worst offenders. Second, “got” is such a generalized verb that it can be stuck in almost anywhere (as shown by the final example above).

Always look for verbs to replace “get” at some point, though the best time is when you go through your own first round of edits, where you should be correcting any errors you find, and tweaking the text however you can to improve it. Once you have clean text, you can add to the story as you see fit without having to worry about previous errors. That’s my recommended editing method, anyway. In the meantime, here are better ways to write the samples above.

I set Lucy in her crib.

I went to the kitchen and snagged a can of juice.

I staggered out of bed.

The group pulled into town around six that night, ate some dinner then got down to the business of discussing the strange jar they’d bought at the flea market.

Note that one instance of “got” remains in the final example, because “get down to business” is a reasonably specific verb phrase, and although I’m suggesting you get rid of excess instances, I’m not saying never use the word. Just avoid overuse.

General purpose verbs such as “got” are used frequently in compound verbs. For more information about why writers should avoid compound verbs, see my “Compounding Problems” post.

Looking for more tips? Here’s what’s up so far. More to come!

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