Read the First Chapter

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tip #11 For Fiction Writers: The dirtiest words of all.

Tip  #11  The dirtiest words of all.

By Peter Gilboy

  I consider the dirtiest words to be clutter words. Often they end in LY. Mostly they are adverbs. Sometimes LY words are adjectives too.
Want to know the truth?

Why are LY words dirty?  Because they say little. They’re weak. They’re just there because  . . . well, because they’re there. Sort of like when someone cusses just for the hell of it, sprinkling a sentence with unnecessary expletives.  

Yes, sometimes swear words are appropriate for our characters. They help define him or her, or help emphasize a moment.  “God damn!”  “Oh, shit.”  Here they might work. But if they’re unnecessary, then it looks like your character doesn’t have a vocabulary. You can be sure, then, that your reader will find the dialogue tedious.

-LY words are easy. They're cheap. They’re like a grinning used car salesman, or one of those 50% OFF EVERYTHING!! ads. They’re like a hooker who just lays there pretending to moan. It's a good show, but it doesn't mean anything."












…and so on.

What’s wrong with these? They’re extra. They slow down the scene. Whatever they represent might be better understood through a more carefully-placed word or a better crafting of the scene.
He said he didn't do it.

“He ran quickly.”


“He raced.”  Better, yes?

How about this line: “She was dressed beautifully.” 

Can you see her? Have an image of her in your mind? 

No. The word “beautifully” brings no specific image of her. It’s extra. It’s cheap. Why not share the colors and textures of what she’s wearing? Why not share that her gown is low-cut or rides low on her shoulders, or how it falls around thighs. Maybe include how the heels make her taller and erect, or that fabric presses hard against his breasts.

In Jodi Picoult's book Plain Truth, an attorney says this to the defendant's relative:

"I'm going to have psychiatrist come out and talk to her."
Leda blinked. "A psychiatrist?"

Note that Leda didn't say it "hurriedly," "quickly," with astonishment or anything else.  She blinked.

Can you see the image? Of course. 

“The river moved slowly through the hills.”

Why not?: “The river wandered through the hills."

"She kissed him softly." Why not put it in a fuller context?

Why not? She leaned toward him and put her lips to his.

KEY POINT: 19 out of 20 times an LY word is not needed. They hurt our writing.

You can prove it to yourself: Pick up a Steinbeck story or a Hemmingway, or one of the fine current writers like Scott Turow, Jodi Picoult, Dean Koontz or John Connolly. Look for LYs. They’re not there. Or, some may be there, but only sprinkled in when absolutely needed
What happens when the CIA gets inside your mind?

Steven King adds this:
Adverbs...seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. …With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.  On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft

Homework:  We can go to Amazon and choose a book we’re especially fond of. Then click on the “Look Inside” feature. Read the first pages or the whole chapter. Search for –LY words.  Are they there? 

Then choose 3 or 4 books at random, doing the same thing. Compare Indie novels to traditional published. Look to see if the writing provides an image without using LY, or whether LY is used when another and better word could be substituted.

And of course, we can go through our own chapters and use the Word search function to find out own LYs.  See it they are necessary. Could the scene better, clearer, with a more carefully place word?

And happy writing.

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is    You can contact him at

No comments:

Post a Comment