There are some words which should be used only sometimes, or sometimes not at all. No, I’m not talking about swear words, I mean words that bore the reader to tears!
If you’re looking to add detail and engage your readers, make sure to avoid the following words.
Good and bad
‘Bad’ and ‘Good’ are two of the most boring words one can use. They are also very vague and do not describe very accurately. Actually, there are so many meanings for these words that they’re rarely used for accuracy at all.
‘Your essay was good’ – was it in an battle of good versus evil? An epic struggle like Star Wars? Or are you asking whether it behaved itself?
‘He is a bad kid’ – is that the boy’s nature? Was he created incorrectly? No, this is just a lazy way to describe the kid’s actions or motives. Instead, try to describe the exact things that the kid has done or what they think which is bad.
Look at the title of this post – I could have easily used the word ‘bad’ to describe the types of words I am talking about. Instead, I used the verb ‘avoid’. This carries all of the connotation of the inferior and vague language I go on to describe.
So, kick this lazy habit and avoid ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in your work.
This is clearly breaking the rules of interesting writing. Put simply, got/gotten/get offer very little description of the action taking place in your story.
Take the following examples…
- “Did you get given your spelling words?”
Instead, substitute: ‘receive’ for ‘get given’. Did you receive your spellings word?
Ah, much better.
- “I got given a spade.”
This one is just pure yukky. Substitute: ‘was’ for ‘got’. I was given a spade.
- “Have you gotten a ticket to the concert?”
You see how vague this is? How was the ticket obtained? Magic? No.
Substitute: ‘bought’ for ‘gotten’. Have you bought your ticket?
What do you mean by ‘weird’?
1. The thing is strange to me. I am not used to it.
2. The thing is unacceptable, non-standard.
3. The thing is eerie or supernatural or extra-terrestrial.
Clearly, this word is used in too many ways. You can’t just leave this word dangling and rely on your reader understanding what you mean.
Focus on the features of the thing which make it unusual. Describe these and use key adjectives to show the reader that the thing is weird.
The creature shifted sideways, it’s legs a tangle, knees buckling unnaturally, its eyes gleaming.
In the above example, I could have said that “the creature looked weird”, but this would be doing an injustice to how horrific and disturbing the creature really is. I picked a couple of key features (legs/knees and eyes) and described its movement. These are the things which make my creature “weird”.
Now here’s one we use all the time. I’ve even used it in this post (see above). So am I breaking my own rules? Maybe.
Let’s check it out.
“The author does some things which are harmful to their case”.
“Things are tough right now.”
The examples above rely on the author going on to describe what they mean by “things”. If the author just leaves it as it is, then it is far too vague.
“Things” is often used to give a general answer without revealing detail. This is handy at times, but you need to be careful about this one in your writing.
In creative writing, and especially for students doing their school work, you should aim for clear description.
Remember: be specific, be accurate.
So, hopefully you have “gotten” some “good” rules for avoiding “bad” language in your “weird” writing and “things”.
Learn how to write a short autobiographical story here… How to Write a Vignette