There is nothing worse than reading a book that is boring. One way that a book can bore a reader is if it has too many overused, common, or even cliche words and phrases.
There are several words to avoid when writing a book. These include “said”, “feel”, “really”, “very”, “actually”, “I”, and so much more. The best way to avoid these words and become a better writer is through practice. Until then, the best thing you can do is to write your book the way you do it naturally, and then go back and look for these words. When you find these words, utilise the trillions of other words that exist in your language. There are so many alternatives that you can use to make your own book even more original.
Today I’m going to be going over several words to avoid when writing a book. This includes words when writing in first person and third person and pertains to words to avoid when writing fiction. Besides telling you the words to avoid, I will tell you why and what words to replace them with.
Lastly, I would like to point out that this is not a hard and fast rule. Your book will not be bad because you use common words, phrases, or cliches. I simply mean this to be a guideline so that you can become a better writer and write incredible books instead of good books. Let’s get started!
Common Writing Mistakes
Being a writer is difficult. If you have attempted to write a book, then you know this. Think about grammar, syntax, writing style, voice, the list goes on and on. First, I want you to know that we readers can tell when you don’t edit your book or try to make it the best it can be. As a result, we appreciate when you write your book well.
There are books that I have read and loved simply because the authors wrote them so well. The plot doesn’t have to be complex or novel. It just has to be good. But that’s easier said than done, right? To give you an idea, here are a few common writing mistakes that writers often make:
- Poorly written dialogue
- Unlikable or unrelatable characters
- Poor readability
- Plot holes (Read more here: 5 ways to avoid plot holes in your novel)
- Using cliches or all too common words and phrases
Today I will focus only on number 5, which is the words to avoid when writing a book. Just so you know, you are in the right place if you are a fictional writer.
Words To Avoid When Writing In First Person
- I (followed by a descriptor word)
- Too much of “I”, “me”, “my”, etc.
- Jumping between past, present, and future tense
- Too many uses of “he”, “she”, “they”
You are most likely using phrases like “I thought” “I heard” “I saw”. These are all examples of telling instead of showing. People say show don’t tell all the time, but how do you do that? Well, the first thing you need to do is find out where you’re telling. To fix that you just need to change your sentence around to where it is saying the same thing but differently (example coming up soon).
Another major problem can be when you are sticking too much to the character’s self with words like “I”, “me”, and “my”. The same problem can occur when you are referring to someone else with words like “he”, “she”, and “they”. You should use these words in moderation, otherwise, your book will end up sounding amateurish.
Lastly, you want to make sure you stick to one form of tense. Most of the time for first person authors, this will be the present tense. There are exceptions to this, for example, if your character is reflecting on a memory. With this example, there is a reason to change tenses. So, if there is not a reason, don’t switch. This form of consistency is a simple mistake to make. By avoiding it, you will keep your readers from getting confused.
Examples Of How To Put This Into Action
Here are three examples that include what was just covered, followed by three alternatives.
Example sentences where the author is telling:
- I walked into the pizza place that at one time used to be my grandmother’s bakery. I thought about the way her cinnamon rolls could instantly make me hungry, even if I had just eaten.
- I heard them coming closer to the door. Please don’t open the door, please don’t open the door! They frightened me stiff. I looked around the room until I came across a rusty box cutter. It will have to do.
- I saw her. The one. The woman I knew would be my future victim. I guess what they say is true; you don’t know until you know.
Example sentences where the author is showing:
- Jonathon opened the door to the pizza place that at one time used to be my grandmother’s bakery. She used to bake award winning cinnamon rolls that could instantly make me hungry, even after eating a full meal.
- The men’s footsteps were getting too close for comfort. My hiding spot will soon be discovered and there’s nothing I can do about it. Please don’t open the door, please don’t open the door! They frightened me stiff. The only moveable part of my body being my eyes flickering all around the room. Unexpectedly, a rusty box cutter stood out from the shadows. It will have to do.
- A beautiful woman with eyes that paralleled her mocha-like complexion came into view. We locked eyes, and she instantly became the object of my affections. My first victim. What they say must be true, you don’t know until you know.
The easiest way to go about this is to just think about your thoughts when you’re experiencing the world (as you do every day). Your thoughts don’t say I see my husband, instead you just see what your husband looks like. In a book you would explain his features. Likewise, you don’t think the phrase I just heard a noise, the noise you heard is auditory, so you recognised it by the sound. In a book you would describe that sound. Lastly, you never internally say I’m thinking about the date I went on last night. Instead, you experience it like a memory. So in a book you would treat it like a memory.
Now what I’m describing is slightly hypocritical because if you go into my previous blog posts you will see me saying phrases like this all the time. But this is something that I have realized and as a result I will try to work on it.
In your book, it is imperative not to let mistakes like this slip. The story becomes boring and takes the reader away from the story instead of pulling them in. The easiest way to avoid these phrases is as simple as describing the character’s actions, thoughts, etc. as if the person reading your book is that character.
Remember, it is ok to write like this initially (with these phrases that you want to avoid), but once you are combing through your book or chapter, see if you can make the writing better by describing and showing instead of telling.
Words To Avoid When Writing In Third Person
- Any words that take on first person point of view
- Sensory words (smelled, tasted, heard, saw, felt)
- Really, very, actually, totally, etc
- Two words next to each other that imply the same meaning (sat down, jumped up)
- Some, thing, stuff
- Passive phrasing
- Overusing “he/she said/asked/replied/exclaimed”
Third person is tricky, and there is an exhaustive list of phrases and words to avoid when writing a book in this point of view. The biggest mistake you can make is using any words or phrases that jump between points of view. If you were writing in the third person, then don’t jump between first and third person. This is not only confusing, but it will also stop readers from finishing the book. So, the only time that you should apply the first person into your novel is if your character’s thoughts are shown to the reader. Otherwise, delete every instance within your book that is not in third person.
The next instance is the use of sensory words like “smelled”, “tasted”, “heard”, “saw”, and “felt”. I suggest you tell your reader what’s happening instead of using these sensory words. To avoid this mistake, simply comb through your novel, and look for the sensory words. When you find one, replace it by describing that sense.
There are also particular words that you should avoid using all together these are often phrases that end in “ly”. The reason you should avoid these words is because we overuse them. They also add nothing to what you are saying. Often these words are a sense of exaggeration. For example, saying “the pizza is really good”, you can easily fix this mistake by looking up synonyms. So, it would change from “Pizza is really good” to “Pizza is superb”.
Another problem you don’t know that you make is using two words together that mean the same thing. This reflects poor writing, but it doesn’t mean you’re a poor writer. You probably didn’t even realise that you you did it when you wrote the phrase. An easy fix for this is just to choose one out of the two words. Your writing will become clear and your reader will still understand what you’re saying.
Using words like “some”, “thing” or “stuff” can also cheapen your writing. Usually this happens when you don’t know how to describe what you’re saying. It is a good indicator that you should take a break or utilise your resources to better describe what you’re saying.
For example, you could say something like “she looked around the room and saw a bunch of stuff lying on the floor”. This gives no context and your reader can’t imagine what the room looks like or even what is on the floor. Take the time to describe the room and describe what is on the floor. Is there anything of importance lying on the floor? Or instead of stating what’s on the floor, you could describe how messy it looked. There are several avenues you can take to replace words like “stuff”. You just have to indulge that creative mind of yours!
Another set of words to avoid when writing in third person is passive phasing. Now this is difficult. And it will also require your creativity to kick in. I also write passively often, so I understand the difficulty in fixing this mistake. Using an editor to point out when you’re writing in passive voice will help you immensely. The more you notice it, the more you will fix it, and the better you will get at avoiding this mistake.
The last mistake is a personal pet peeve of mine. When writing character dialogue you could use phrases like “he/she said/asked/replied/exclaimed”. But why? The problem with this is it will take your reader away from the story. Your readers are smart and they are going to know who’s talking and when. If you feel like a reader may not know who is talking first, then use the phrase “he/she said” at the beginning of the conversation only. I promise you they will know who is speaking from that point on.
Example Of How To Put This Into Action
Example that uses the words you should avoid:
She sat down in the grass and began smelling the white flower. “Mommy, look how pretty it is. Come smell the flowers with me!” she said.
Maria was heading over to her daughter, but the closer she got, the more she was captured in an off-putting feeling. Something wasn’t right. Suddenly, she woke up.
Annette sat in the grass and brought a flower to her tiny pixie nose. The fragrance of lilies immediately enveloped her, and the breeze carried that scent all the way to her mother. “Mommy, look how pretty it is. Come smell the flowers with me!”.
Maria took just a few steps forward when a terrible spell of anxiety washed over her. The more she quickened her pace, the more overwhelming the fear was. Maria’s eyes flashed open, looking wildly around the room before she realized it had been a dream. Her eyes landed on a vase of flowers that hadn’t been in her room when she went to sleep the night before.
Let’s Talk About It
Today I went over the words to avoid when writing a book. Specifically, I focused on fiction books written in first and third person. I broke down why you need to avoid the words I mentioned, how to avoid them, and gave you several examples. Now it is time for you to put this into action. Tell me in the comments about what point of view you are writing your book in and what words you are going to avoid!
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Hi! I am a book blogger primarily. The aim of this blog is to help readers and writers alike. I also write the occasional travel related post. I am a nerd like you with a passion for neuroscience and learning. Hence, my love for books and the authors who write those books!