Posted in better writing, descriptive, editing, good writing, grammar, great writing, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

Common Words to Avoid in Writing

I have always heard that there are certain words that shouldn’t be used or avoided when possible in creative writing. But what exactly are those words? I knew a few of them such as “was” and ly words, but I knew there had to be more, so I did some research and this is what I came up with. Remember this is a guideline only and these words should be avoided most of the time, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use them at all.

The Weak Links
Avoid these words because there is usually another stronger word that can be used instead, so go for the bigger punch.
  • ly words… Check out my blog post The LY Rule to see more about this.
  • any words with these endings…Ize…tion…sion…ment…ance…
  • make
  • made
  • involve
  • involved
  • provide
  • provided
STOP! USE AT YOUR OWN RISK
These words should be avoided at all cost. They don’t do anything for your story but leave ambiguous holes.
  • instantly
  • suddenly
Passive Voice Anyone?
These words typically indicate a passive voice, but not always. Be mindful of these words and how they are being used. If you have one of these words in your sentence, check to see if the sentence is still active, however, passive voice can be a useful tool if used in the correct manner.
  • is
  • are
  • was
  • were
  • be
  • been
  • being
A Big Fat, Duh
This phrase is like shouting duh to your readers. Don’t use it unless you have a REALLY good reason to do so.
  • Of course
Space Holders
These words don’t do much but fill in space and take up word count, so if you want to get your word count down take an ax to these words.
  • that
  • just
  • really
  • very
  • quite
  • sort of
More Description Please
These words are used often, but don’t really say much. Is there another word that would work better and be more descriptive?
  • walk
  • look
  • like
Telling Words
These words usually indicate that you are telling your reader something instead of showing it.
  • saw
  • heard
  • thought
Can You Seem?
What does seem really mean and when you use it, can what you seem really do it? Confused yet? Let’s take a look at an example.
Example… The house seemed quiet.
How can a house seem quiet? Doesn’t a house just sit there, so how would it seem anything at all?
  • seem/seemed
Do you ING?
Watch how many action ing words you use. An overabundance can make a story sound weak. I’m not saying don’t use them just cut it way back and try not to start sentences with an ing words. Remember ing words usually indicate action that is happening now or while something else is happening. If not used in the right way, they can have adverse effects on the way your story plays out.
  • any ING words
Lazy Words
These words can be used but are lazy words. They can easily be fixed with something a little more descriptive and more accurate for your story needs.
  • briefly
  • good
  • bad
  • nice
  • went
  • came
  • got
  • get
Guilty Pleasure
This word is usually used in an abundance (at least with me), but other words should be used instead for proper wording.
Example… As Robert ran down the street… INSTEAD SAY… While Robert ran down the street.
  • as… instead of using as use… while or when
Give Me Some Slang
These words are used, but are actual NOT real words.
  • alot… proper use is… a lot
  • alright… proper use is… all right
Get Rid of It
This word is used when another word would be much more appropriate. The only thing this word is good for is leaving the reader hanging. What does “it” mean? Who is “it” referring to? Be specific. Take out the it and throw him in the trash before it drives your readers crazy.
Example… It was hot… INSTEAD SAY… The Stove was hot.
  • it
Some of these words were a surprise to me and I’m guilty of more than a few violations, but it’s good to have a list now that I can use as I’m attacking my final draft. I’m sure there are more words out there that are on the “don’t use list” please feel free to leave a comment and add to this list.
Posted in adjectives, better writing, descriptive, editing, good writing, grammar, great writing, how to be more descriptive, how to write, ly rule, ly words, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

The LY Rule

It’s a habit that the budding writer is apt to make. In fact, many writers can put years into writing without learning a very important rule of a proper writing technique I like to call the ly rule. Have you ever noticed how saturated some works can be with words  like gladly, fairly, or brightly? Sure, there needs to be more description in stories, but make sure it’s the right kind of description.

It’s usually a good idea to use less adverbs and adjectives instead of more. It’s all about being as specific as possible and showing your reader what’s going on without resorting to the ly. So that means beefing up your nouns and verbs (especially the action verbs). But ly words are sneaky little suckers, so let’s take a look at some examples to see some ways ly usage can be reduced.

EXAMPLE 1:
She cooked over a hot stove and constantly pushed her blond sweat-matted hair out of her face as she stirred the pot.

So let’s rewrite it without the ly word constantly…

She cooked over a hot stove, pushing her blond sweat-matted hair out of her face for what seemed the hundredth time, while stirring the pot.

OR

She cooked over the hot stove as sweat-matted hair obstructed her vision. Anna swiped it back cursing her blond strands, while stirring the pot.

If you notice taking out the ly constantly you add more description than if you’d left constantly in the sentence. What does constantly actually do for your sentence. Not much, constantly is an ambiguous word. It really doesn’t tell the reader much at all and leaves a lot for interpretation. This is actually the case for most ly words.

Words like quickly, darkly, considerably… How quickly? Did she run as fast as a tiger, or was she faster than a speeding bullet? Big difference right? How darkly? Was the room as dark as a full moon night, or darker than the eye of a black hole? How considerably? Did he walk as far as the mail box down the drive or walk a full marathon? Are you starting to see a pattern here? If you can be specific, do it, because it will add the extra punch to your story that will set yours above others.

Let’s do another sentence for good measure…

EXAMPLE 2:

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was reasonably safe.”

You can write this sentence a few ways…

You can take the world reasonably out all together and say…

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was a safe one?”

OR

You could leave it and put emphasis on the word reasonably with italics to show a sarcastic tone…

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was reasonably safe.”

…The ly serves a purpose of bringing attention to the word, which in this case you want.

OR

He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.”I know the mountains this time of night is a dangerous place. I hope it wasn’t too perilous for you both.”

So you see there are multiple ways that you can avoid the ly words or make them work for you. It’s a matter of knowing what context you want to bring to your story. You’ll also notice that when taking out ly words you usually have to use more than one word to replace that word. So yes, it will up your word count overall to take them out, but the benefits will far outweigh this. In fact you may find that the more you write the more concise you tend to be.

It isn’t possible to take out ALL ly words, but you should try to get rid of as many as possible. I struggle with this ly rule all the time and often find myself having to go back many times to make corrections. So believe when I say, this is a rule that ALL writer’s have a problem with, but it’s a battle worth the fight. The next time you sit down to write ask yourself this. How many ly words do you think you could cut?