phrases to avoid

Phrases to Avoid

In my capacity as a reviewer and editor, I’ve come across a lot of over-used phrases. My best guess is that writers use these phrases to give their writing a sense of personality—to make the storytelling seem natural, to proffer the illusion that the narrator is “just a regular guy.” The problem is that this regular guy uses trite clumps of words that hold no real meaning and, worse, come off as hackneyed and amateurish.

What follows is a list of words and phrases that really get under my skin. Granted, this list is probably largely subjective, and in all honesty, there’s an excellent chance that I’ve used these phrases myself from time to time. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of my favorite writers allow these phrases to creep into their work. But I’m also willing to bet that these phrases show up far less in published fiction than in the manuscripts and self-published works that have come across my desk.

  • anyway: “Anyway, everything I spelled out in minute detail over the last three paragraphs was completely irrelevant to the main point I’m about to make. But thanks for hanging in there with me while I cleared my throat.”
  • don’t get me wrong: “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve given you a lot of miscues and irrelevant information up to this point, but I’m about to clear it all up with some clunky exposition that will make my true feelings painfully obvious.”
  • if you know what I mean: “That guy’s kind of a jerk, if you know what I mean. And if you don’t know what I mean, then either you’re an idiot or I’m not doing a good job of telling my story.”
  • mind you: “Nobody uses this phrase more than narrators in bad fiction, mind you, but I’m going to use it anyway because I want to underscore an obvious point.”
  • now: “Now a lot of people in real life begin sentences with this word, but a lot of people in real life aren’t writers.”
  • one of those: “He drank one of those beers that people are always drinking in fancy bars. Sure, I could have just said that he drank a beer, he drank a microbrew, he drank an imported lager, or even that he drank a fancy beer, but I threw ‘one of those’ into the mix to demonstrate that I’m just one of those regular straight-talkin’ guys.”
  • sort of: “I’m sort of worried that my writing will lose some of its impact due to my use of language that undercuts the full weight of the emotions I’m trying to convey.”
  • well: “Well, everyone I know told me that my story was great, so those editors who said it could use a little more work must all be idiots.”
  • what you need to understand: “What you need to understand is that this is just the way I write. If you don’t like it, then… Hey! Why did you stop reading?”
  • you might say: “You might say this guy has a real stick up his ass about overused words and phrases. Then again, you might also notice that the sentence conveys the same meaning if you simply write, This guy has a real stick up his ass about overused words and phrases.