Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, your objective is conveying specific points your readers. Your writing space is where you execute that mission. It’s like prime real estate. So, you should use words that contribute the most value.
When I write, I scrutinize the words I pick. Are they worthy? Do they carry their weight? Can I rely on them to do what I need? If not, I replace them with more colorful and precise words.
This isn’t always easy because some of the weakest, vaguest words are so common that they can slide by unnoticed. But I’ve exposed some of them below. When you see these words in your writing, be aware. They can often be replaced to add more flavor to your story.
We use modifiers to stress the point and inflate our descriptions, but often we can do that by swapping out two or more words for a more precise word.
- They dropped out of school but are very smart.
- They dropped out of school but are intelligent.
- Prince Edward County is extremely poor.
- Prince Edward County is impoverished.
- She’s extremely happy.
- She’s elated.
Did not/ Didn’t
These negatives can often be replaced with one word that’s stronger and more colorful.
- She didn’t like him.
- She detested him.
- Kyle did not listen to his teachers.
- Kyle ignored his teachers.
- We did not have any money.
- We were broke.
“Things” is one of the vaguest, escriptive words in English. Since it applies to almost everything, it doesn’t offer clues or add any information to your story.
In most cases, using “things” sounds lazy or suggests you lack specifics. Replace it with details. Even if you’re discussing a list that’s too long to cover in full, some details are better than none.
- The hoarder’s house was filled with things no one wanted.
- The hoarder’s house was filled with broken gadgets, expired food and other junk no one wanted.
- After thinking things through, she decided moving was best.
- After thinking about her divorce and strained finances, she decided moving was best.
- She said they broke up because he lies about things.
- She said they broke up because he lies about his schedule, his whereabouts and their finances.
“Almost” is commonly used as an alternative for nearly. The problem is it’s gauged differently by different people.
Think about the expression, “I’m almost ready.” To some people that means I’m lacing up my shoes and them I’m ready to leave. For others, it means I still need to brush my teeth, put on my makeup and find my earrings.
Readers don’t know what it means to you. Keep everyone on the same page by being more specific.
- It was almost Kelly’s birthday and Rob still didn’t know what to get her.
- It was two days before Kelly’s and Rob still didn’t know what to get her.
- The car almost hit the stroller.
- The car came within a foot of hitting the stroller.
- The show was almost over but he was demanding to leave.
- The show only had five minutes left, but he was demanding to leave.
A lot presents the same problem as “almost.” It’s subjective. For me, $22 is a lot for shampoo. For you, it may be the norm. So, again, it’s best to be more specific.
- That couple has a lot of debt.
- That couple has over $75,000 in debt.
- They argue because she parties a lot.
- They argue because she parties five nights a week.
- She went in for one thing and came out with a lot of groceries.
- She went in for one thing and came out with six bags of groceries.
If you make a statement citing appearance or discuss a conclusion that’s reached based on appearance but you don’t offer detail, you’re not doing your job. Writers are supposed to show, not mention and expect readers to fill in the gaps. This is a key opportunity to provide valuable information.
Furthermore, citing appearance without elaborating can make readers skeptical. They may question whether you have all the facts or wonder whether you are making baseless assumptions.
- The child’s appearance led us to believe she was neglected.
- The child’s bony frame, matted hair and dirty clothes led us to believe she was neglected.
- According to police reports, the investors were fooled by his wealthy appearance.
- According to police reports, he wore diamond-crusted watches and tailored suits. He smoked Cuban cigars and always drove foreign cars. Investors assumed he was wealthy.
Replacing the words on this list are just a few of the opportunities we have to add more detail. If you’d like to enlighten us about others, go for it in the comments section.