Stick Figures

Attack of the Killer Words and Phrases!

imageWhat words and phrases do you seek and destroy in your writing?  Which annoy the heck out of you in books you’ve read?

I’m compiling a list of words and phrases that may be considered weak, fatty, passive, cliché, or redundant.  Of course, writers can’t always eliminate these words.  We use our own discretion, but often when I find these weak words, I find my weakest sentences and will spend quite some time revising and rebuilding that text.  It isn’t just a matter of using the delete key.

Here are my top favorite seek-and-destroy words and phrases:

  • very
  • there was/there were (my biggest offenders when it comes to passive voice)
  • then
  • filter worlds like those related to: hear, see, smell, taste, touch

There are other kinds of words that I try to weed out in general as well.  I love adverbs and will still use them though often I know a sentence is much stronger without the extra descriptor.  Trading “ing” verbs for “ed” verbs makes for yet another long slog through a manuscript with the search box, but the result is worth it.

Help me out my listing some of the words and phrases you love to hate below (with the exception of fowl language please).  I can’t wait to hear your pet peeves!

Michelle Joyce Bond


23 thoughts on “Attack of the Killer Words and Phrases!

  1. I tend to use the same few words to describe action during dialogue: nodded, shrugged, smiled etc. Comes from trying to avoid saying ‘said’ all the time. But wiser people than me argue that a writer should only ever write ‘said’. Tough one.

      1. I liked your ‘said’ piece, but only agree to a point. By replacing it, the author can soon look read like he/she is on a one person mission to avoid it, and trying way too hard. People wheeze, grimace, spit, etc quite rarely when they are talking. Mostly they just say things.

  2. I should add that as most of my work is set during WW2, every character smokes. Judging by the amount of times they light, or stub out, cigarettes during dialogue, few of them would be likely to see the 1950’s. D’oh.

  3. I have to be careful of ‘line of work’. Alernatives such as ‘occupation’ feel bland to me.
    Also, I have come to realise that nothing is as it seems to me, so I too often use phrases like ‘it seemed’, ‘it appeared’.

  4. That, just, and very are ones I search and destroy. My critique group gets on me for ‘was’ because it indicates passive writing. I think I use the word ‘though’ too much, but no one has mentioned it.

  5. “Like” is a tough one. It’s easy to overuse or unnecessarily use a simile. At the same time, similes provide too much utility in explaining something to the reader.

    Usually, when I want to convey information with accuracy to a reader, similes usually trump metaphors.
    When accuracy doesn’t matter (as much), I prefer metaphors for their superior color and emotional strength.

    As for words I tend to watch out for…

    I tend to keep an eye out prepositional phrases involving “of”… Often I can just rewrite the sentence with a lot more color and strength by ditching the “of”, but not always.

    Anything denoting ownership of dialogue. I use the bare minimum indicators possible. If I need to put down ownership, I usually stick to “said” because it flows quickly and the reader will ignore it if possible.

    Starting any short story on a negative sentence: “She never, she didn’t, she hated”, etc… I don’t know why but I don’t like leading paragraphs that serve as a downer. Even if it’s something of a downer story, I prefer to search for a different focus for that opening.

    I feel like I should have a dozen personal writing peeves but I can’t recall them >_>

  6. ‘Just’ is one I have to be careful about. ‘Looked’ too. As in “he looked at her,” or “he looked at his shoes,” or “he looked like he was about to bolt.” Thank goodness for the search and find capabilities of Word documents!

  7. You’re dealing with the old dilemma of the creative writers. What to do when ” words have used and reused like a Gillette blade to the mystical point of dullness”? I’ve been tackling this problem for quite some time. Some of the words that I tend to avoid include, among others, ‘awesome’ and ‘stuff’! Thank you for stopping by my blog, and liking my poem, ‘The Artifice’!

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