As an editor, I’ve come to notice there are many words that writers tend to repeat or use when they’re not needed. Most of the time, I think it’s just habitual. Many writers just write things the way they would normally talk rather than thinking of the proper way to structure sentences.
As an author, however, I catch myself using some of these words without even thinking. They are easy pitfalls to trip into, so I thought I’d make a list of some of the words you can watch out for and cut back on to help your writing become more fluid and to help you avoid repetitive word use which you may not notice, but readers absolutely will.
That –This is one of the most commonly overused words I see in my editing business. Most times, your sentence will still make sense if you remove this word. If it does, delete it. It does have its purpose on rare occasions, but only if the word is essential where it’s been placed.
Really, Very, Pretty – These words are usually used in conjunction with adjectives or verbs and are called modifiers. But rather than saying something like, “She ran very fast,” you can eliminate the modifier and say “She ran quickly.” This will make all the difference and these words are rarely ever needed.
And then – Use one or the other. It’s simple. This is redundant and in you can always get by with “and” or “then,” but never both together.
So – The most common way this word is overused is when it’s placed at the beginning of a sentence. For example, “So I ran to the store.” The word “so” serves no purpose here. Again, if you can take out “so” and the sentence still makes sense, don’t use it.
Well – Again, this is mostly overused when starting sentences, but usually in dialogue. Like, “Well, I thought that was true.” You can see how the sentence would still work without this word. And when used repeatedly, readers will notice it and it has no real use in most cases.
Start, Begin – These are what are known as “stammer verbs” and are often used prior to an action on the part of the characters. For example, rather than saying “I started to walk to the store,” say, “I walked to the store.”
Actually, Totally, Completely - Though normally used before adjectives (“it was actually big” or “he was totally hot”), they are not necessary and they add nothing of value to the sentence. They are just “fluff” words that have no place in your writing.
Literally – Again, never necessary. Someone might say, “I was literally almost died.” No, you didn’t. This word is so often misused, and it serves no purpose. Just avoid this whenever possible.
Just – This is another easy one to fall into. As in, “I just sat there, doing nothing.” It’s a totally inessential word that adds no value to the sentence sand can almost always be avoided in this context.
Rather, Quite, Somewhat, Somehow – These words are wish-washy and imply that something is not certain. Use more concise language whenever possible.
There are dozens more words I could list here, but these are the most common. The general rule of thumb is, if you can remove the word from the sentence and it still makes sense, then delete it.
Happy writing, and remember, if you ever have questions or need an editor for your query or novel, please contact me by visiting my CONTACT ME page.