Words not to use in creative writing

I’ve compiled a short list of words that we’re encouraged not to use in our creative writing.

The intention in omitting these words and using alternatives is to keep the writing active, engaging, and not unnecessarily wordy. Of course, there are always exceptions and personal writing styles, so read this as a general guideline and not as rules set in stone!

 

Got (unnecessary)

The wolf has got an appetite => The wolf has an appetite

 

Get (unnecessary)

The wolf was getting hungry => The wolf was hungry

 

Was (passive)

The wolf was thinking about lunch => The wolf thought about lunch

 

Had (passive)

He had finished his breakfast a long time ago => He finished his breakfast five hours ago

 

Would (passive)

The little piggy would go to the market every Sunday => The little piggy visited the market every Sunday

 

Could (passive)

He could see that the house was made of straw => He saw the house was made of straw

Note: “that” was redundant because it adds no value to the sentence.

 

Started / began (what is “starting”?)

The wolf started huffing and puffing => The wolf huffed and puffed

He began to sweat => He sweated

Note: some writers don’t like using infinitives (to sweat)

 

Really (vague)

It was really bad => It was worse than he expected.

Note: “small”, “big”, “good”, “bad” etc. are also vague! (e.g. how small?)

 

Very (vague)

The door was very strong => The door withstood the wolf pushing hard against it.

 

Just (adds no value to the sentence)

The wolf just finds pigs tasty => The wolf finds pigs tasty (pigs are a delicacy for a hungry wolf.)

 

Actually (adds no value to the sentence)

The wolf was actually shaking with hunger => The wolf shook with hunger

 

Went (weak)

Then he went to the next house => He stormed to the next house

Note: Then is weak and unnecessary)

 

Up / down (weak)

He walked up the lane => He walked along the lane

 

Something controversial to finish, adverbs:

 

-ly

Using adverbs seems to be an ongoing battle between writers! The argument against using them is that they can be ambiguous; “To boldly go…” (The famous split infinitive!) How boldly do they go?

The pigs jumped happily => The pigs cheered, and jumped with their curly tails waggling with excitement.

(cur-ly tails are fine! 😉)

 

Hope this helps, perhaps if you think of more words (or better examples of not using them!) you can add them in the comments!

 

Paul Sterlini
Feb 8 2021

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Comments:

Not sure I can force myself to drop my "had"s and "that"s. I feel that (see?) they often add emphasis to the timeline though I do how eliminating can add urgency.

BIll Dean
Mar 29 2021

Excellent stuff ... now I know where I have been going wrong ... er ... went wrongly.

Tony Spencer
Feb 9 2021

This is so valuable! I'm going to print a copy off and use it to review my writing. I'm sure it'll help me identify sentences I can improve to strengthen my stories.

Rod Webb
Feb 8 2021