Poisonous Words

Everyone has those words that make their skin crawl. Language has the ability to make you feel things. That’s what I love about being an author; we have the ability to conjure emotions with ink on paper. As you continue writing and learn what makes you tick as an author, you’ll find those words and phrases that you love — and those that you hate.

I’m going to list a few words that really hold back your writing and make readers cringe (definitely not the type of emotions we’re hoping to conjure up). Now, I’m not saying you can never use these words. There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of: “Once you learn all the rules, then you can break them.” Same thing goes for us as writers. When you know what you’re not supposed to do as a writer, you’ll know when it is the right situation to use them.

So, here we go!

 

  1. Very/Really

Inexperienced writers find themselves falling into this pitfall quite often. It’s easy to take a word we know and stick ‘very’ in front of it to get a stronger meaning for the word. As writers, we should not be finding the easiest way to express things. We should be attempting to push ourselves, find new way to use description in everything we write. My favorite books are the ones that describe something mundane like driving a car and describe it in such a way that it’s suddenly magical.

Bad Example: The thunder was very loud.

Good Example: The thunder made the house shake.

 

  1. Honestly/Absolutely/Literally

This one drives me crazy (especially the last one in the list above). Nothing destroys the meaning of a sentence faster than using one of these when describing something.  No, you didn’t “literally die” when you saw your favorite singer, otherwise you would not be able to explain that you did so. If you’re using them in dialogue, that’s a different story, as it’s realistic for people to use these when they’re speaking in certain contexts. I would still remain wary then, though. It can make your character annoying. If that’s your goal, then go ahead! Otherwise, I’d stay away.

Bad Example: The ship was honestly the biggest thing Molly had ever seen.

Good Example: Molly had never seen a ship so massive.

 

  1. Said

I’ve been hearing people complain about this one since my first English class . There are so many different ways to express how to say something and it’s a shame when writers don’t take full advantage of the language. Whenever I write, I keep a list of every synonym to ‘said’ possible and use them whenever I can. There are times when it’s acceptable to use it, but whenever possible, try one of the countless alternatives.

Bad Example: “Stop it!” said Jane.

Good Example: “Stop it!” cried Jane.

 

  1. Stuff/Things

These two can save you a lot of time explaining things to the reader, but it makes the scene you’re describing hard to picture. There are all sorts of ‘stuff’ that could be anywhere, and leaving it empty to the reader makes the place you’re describing blurry to their imagination. Take the time to write about specific objects. Adding one or two extra sentences can make a world of difference.

Bad Example: The desk was covered in stuff.

Good Example: The desk was covered in crumpled paper, pencil shavings, and various writing utensils.

 

  1. Always/Never

This last one is extremely important, but one that is often overlooked. By using one of these, you’re locking yourself into something that may not realistically be true. In real life, something is rarely ‘always’ or ‘never’ the case. It may be so ‘most’ of the time, but situations come up that change the routine. This is less of something that sounds bad and more along the lines of consistency errors.

Bad Example: Meghan never got angry.

Good Example: Meghan rarely got angry.

 

There you go! These words have a tendency to ‘poison’ your writing. Like I said before, I’m not saying you should never ever use these. Just be careful when you do, and ask yourself if there’s another, better way to put something.

Are there any words you hate to see as a writer? Comment them below!

— J. L. Willow

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