Word Cloud - Dissolution

Writing: My Hit List

(The word cloud used as the image for this post was generated from my sci-fi short story Dissolution, which you can read here.)

Every writer has a list of words or phrases they hate. This post contains my personal list of 63 phrases I avoid because I feel they weaken my writing. I am no expert, so don’t take this post as gospel. Nevertheless, this list has helped me, so I thought I would share it. I have compiled this list over the past few years based on personal preferences, plus feedback from editors, beta readers, and fellow writers. Note, I primarily use this list when writing and editing fiction.

To avoid repetition, I grouped similar phrases together in the table below. I then gave each phrase a rating:

  • Black: Total ban. I will rework the sentence to remove these phrases 100% of the time.
  • Red: Avoid whenever possible. I will do my best to remove these phrases, but if there is a good reason for them to stay, so be it.
  • Amber: Beware. I will check to see if my use of these phrases indicates a weak sentence.

I have included a comment beside each item explaining its inclusion on the list.

Enjoy! Let me know what you think in the comments.

My Hit List

PhraseRatingComment
suddenly / all of a sudden / just then / immediately / began / began to / started / started toblackThese are lazy phrases to express urgency or a sudden change in circumstance. I prefer to use verb choice and sentence structure to convey the upbrupt shift.
get / got / gottenblackWorst verb ever. Any verb is better than get.
very / really / trulyblackLazy adjectives Either choose a stronger one or exclude it altogether.
of it / to it / on it / for itblackI find that whenever I've written one of these, it means the sentence is clumsy. Rewording can always get rid of these phrases and make the sentence stronger.
amazingblackLazy word.
literallyblackNot even ironically.
stuff / thingsblackLazy word.
the fact thatblackAs well as sounding ugly, it usually means the sentence is poorly-written.
thatredYou can almost always remove "that" and you'll improve the sentence's flow without losing meaning.
felt / thought / believed / realised / knewredI try to avoid telling the reader what the character is thinking or feeling. I'd rather show it in actions and internal monologue or external dialogue.
hadredPast perfect tense is ugly. I try to avoid it as much as possible.
and / and then / just as / as / whenredOften indicate a run-on sentence sentence. Delete them, add a period, carry on.
was / were / be / been / had been / beingredAlmost always inidicate of a weak sentence, either passive voice or other problems. Delete, rework and replace with stronger verbs.
went / had goneredNormally indicate you're narrating the basic movements of a charcter. That's boring. Rework into something more interesting.
ratherredLazy word.
simplyredLazy word.
someredLazy word.
perhaps / mayberedLazy word.
soredLazy word.
notredInstead of writing what something isn't, consider writing what it is, unless you're deliberately highlighting the contrast.
thingredLazy word.
justamberLazy word.
asamberWhen used as an adverb (e.g. "As big as") or conjunction (e.g. "just as") I hate this word; I think it leads to ugly and/or run-on sentences. I think it's fine as a preposition (e.g. "hired as a cook").
now / thenamberOften included to convey a series of events: "Jenny went to the busstop, then she got on the bus, now she's at work." Rework to make the narration more interesting.
as if / like / seemedamberConsider finding ways to convey the comparison without telling the reader "pay attention to this comparison"
there wasamberLazy phrasing.
becauseamberUsually means you're telling the reader the reason for something instead of showing them.
toamberThis one is kind of nebulous, since the word "to" shows up in some many circumstances. But I find that, when it does show up, it can often mean I've phrased the sentence clumsily.
nearly / almostamberOften a lazy way to tell the reader the situation is precarious: "The ledge was nearly in reach."

8 thoughts on “Writing: My Hit List”

  1. Hi Robert. Agree overall, especially for omniscient narration. For first person and close third you are more limited to the vocabulary and thinking of that character so if they use ‘stuff’ a lot then that’s what you’ve got.

    1. Good points, Kelly. Totally agree on first person. For close third, I probably still wouldn’t use “stuff” outside of dialogue or internal monologue, even if it’s a word the POV character enjoys. But maybe that’s wrong of me. You’ve given me food for thought, thanks!

  2. I’m really surprised “eyes wide” isn’t on here, haha. Though I guess this is more for specific words, rather than over-used phrases.

    It’s a great list. But, I bet there are a ton of other lazy adjectives out there.

    1. Yes, I didn’t include adjectives and adverbs. I sweep for those in a separate round of editing. As for eyes-wide, that’s Renee’s pet hate, although I try not to use it either!

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