Language is a peculiar thing. It is fluid and organic, always changing and evolving. You can say the same thing using a different set of words. Tweaking your word choice can attach a different connotation to the particular phrase. Unfortunately, this makes it easy to have fillers and meaningless words in our writing without even knowing it. We need to learn to spot these filler words so we can tweak them into exactly what we mean to say exactly how we want to say them. Each word is important. Don’t let fillers sabotage the robustness of your idea! Here is a self editing (for fiction) checklist of words to watch.
‘Said’ is one of the most overused words in reported speech. Oh how I loathe this word. I realize my distaste is a bit subjective but for the editors who don’t mind the word still report it as being overused. This word is so ingrained in our writing dating back to those elementary school short stories. There are several descriptive words that you can use instead of “said”. For example, exclaimed, replied, retorted, and whispered and a million others.
An even better option is to rewrite your sentence having cut the word out completely and replace the word with an action.
Instead of: “You shut your fat, ugly face, ya backstabbing hussy!” Natzu said.
Try this: “You shut your fat, ugly face, ya backstabbing hussy!” Natzu grabbed Gray’s shirt and threw him across the mess hall.
See how I completely shaped a story out of a few words just by replacing the word said? You can add so much to your story by replacing this word. And yes, I stole Natzu and Gray from Fairy Tale, my favorite Anime. You should watch it.
Really is a word not to use in fiction, unless absolutely necessary. Here is a bad example, “My child really performed well in sports”. The word “really” is meant to be a helper whose purpose is to emphasize something in the sentence. However, in this case, it is vague, emphasizing nothing at all. Most people who use the word are writing the way they speak, but it doesn’t translate well into written prose. In speaking, “really” can emphasize better due to change pitch, which is just not possible in writing. And if you put the word in all caps to try and fix this situation, you deserve a high five (in the face).
Again this is vague. Are we sensing a theme? It is important to be specific about the object of your sentence. “Things’ is a boring word, leaving your audience wondering which “thing” was doing that “thing” again… and things. I knew a girl who said “and things” after every sentence, and things. Boo. Stop filling space. Call the ‘things’ by their names to sound convincing and authoritative. Give them a nickname if you don’t want to keep using the same word all the time. If there are more than one item substituted by ‘things’, use group nouns like utensils, cookware, furniture, electronics and so on.
Instead of saying: “Carl had to clean off the puke from all of Candy’s things”
Try: “Carl had to clean off the puke that was threatening to drip off of mom’s shoulder and land square on Mr. Squish’s face.”
We’ve given shape to a story by replacing things with two actual objects; Mom’s shoulder and Mr. Squish’s face.
4. Was/ is / are/ am
These words make the difference between active and passive voice. Passive writing is very long, and will probably have your readers putting down your book even before the second chapter.
Instead of: Lucy’s magic gate keys were safely hooked to her belt.
Try: Lucy hooked her magic gate keys safely to her belt.
When you restructure your sentence, make sure you re-evaluate your word choice again. Active voice is engaging and clearer to the reader.
Very is another boring word that made its way to English. Writers try to magnify their subjects and objects with the word just like they do with the word “really”. The English language is full of too many interesting words to use “very”.
Instead of: very happy
Instead of: Very good
When you sit down to write, it’s okay to use these words. Worry about getting your thoughts on paper first. I always tell nervous writers to throw up on a page for you first draft. Just heave up those thoughts in a messy, unorganized first draft. That’s okay! But when you go to self edit (which you should. Shame on you if you don’t.) These are some things to look at. Use the search and find feature in Microsoft Word and double check that it’s the perfect word for that sentence.
Check back next week for more posts! If you have any questions or comments, leave them below!