author, editing, problem words, stories, writing, writing tips
When we write we all have our problem words we have to watch out for. For me, I have a terrible habit of using ‘suddenly’, ‘began’ and ‘started’. Suddenly pulls the reader out of the story and doesn’t create immediacy (which is what I want it to do), it’s a short cut that isn’t very good. The words began and started are words that are delaying action. Rather than saying ‘it started to rain’ just say ‘it rained’. It creates a stronger and richer story. And I know these things but it’s so hard to catch ourselves sometimes. Yay for editors!
Other common words to avoid include: then, in order to, very, really, like.
What are your problem words that you know you should avoid in writing but often struggle to do so?
I don’t see the point of avoiding words, and I like to break rules beautifully. 🙂
As long as you break them beautifully.
Sometimes ugly works too.
Perhaps if you wrote “All of a sudden, fat drops hit the ground, turning once bone-dry dust to runny slurry instantly, much like how I was then feeling.” Language is wonderful.
Haha language is. Very creative!
Raymond Hopkins said:
Given the number of badly written books that are available in the bookshops, I have to agree that an intensive course on rules of writing is definitely in order. However – yes, there’s always a but, isn’t there? – any and all rules can be thrown out of the window in the interests of style, and style is one of those features that marks out the good writer from the merely mediocre. Of course – another but – this assumes that the writer in question knows what the rules are, and knows how to use them effectively. Try reading Orwell’s essay on style, if you don’t know it already. It sums up the issue far better than I can. Sometimes, your problem words are the only ones that fit.
Very true. Sometimes problem words are the only words that can be used. And in those cases, it is okay to use them. It can create style, like you said. But it’s the overuse of them (and overuse of anything I suppose) that makes them bad. I do wonder what publishers do sometimes with the amount of crap in bookshops! But at the same time, who am I to judge? Maybe there are people who enjoy them somewhere.
Raymond Hopkins said:
One of the many beauties of the Finnish language is that it allows me to avoid the definite article, surely one of the most used words in any piece of English writing.
I love to use the words however and so
Love them and maybe overuse them sometimes? 😛 I find myself using ‘so’ too many times as well. It’s a great word though.
Anne Schilde said:
I think the problem with overuse and extraneous words can be blamed squarely on our educations. Every one of us is required in school to write a story or an essay and then given the dreaded three-page constraint. We become programmed to fluff out a sentence so that as second nature, “I have trouble with that,” becomes “Generally, I tend to have more trouble with that sort of thing.” Nothing could be more destructive. It’s much more difficult to unlearn a bad habit, than it is to learn a good one, and stories or essays that shouldn’t be three pages long deserve to be evaluated on the same merits as others that should.
On the flip side of the coin, overuse can be a handy literary device. I don’t ordinarily use the words, “quite”, “however”, “indeed” or “simply” with any regularity, however, by simply infusing a narrative with them, I can give the narrator quite a different personality indeed. Or consider the effect of Poe’s overuse of the word “bells” in The Bells. While the Poe example is poetry (and extreme), the same technique can be employed over and over and over in prose to convey monotony, annoyance, or just to illustrate a point.
And of course, my chief nemesis is the word “just”.
Very true, Anne. Great points. I think the other major thing is that conversationally we overuse extraneous words all the time. Oooh, ‘just’ is another sneaky one.
Anne Schilde said:
One of my favorite overuses, or beautiful infractions as the case may be, is “so VERY” in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.