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Top 10 Killer Words That Make Readers Switch Off

killer words

When you’re reading all day, every day, for work AND for pleasure you tend to notice how *certain things* slip by (maybe?) unchallenged, even into produced and published works.

So here’s B2W’s official top 10 of the words that MOST make me, “WTF??” when I see them, again and again and again … Enjoy!

1) Obviously

This is a huge screenwriting no-no in scene description, but I see it pretty much every day, usually describing something we’re supposed to be seeing on screen that pertains to the plot in some way. I’ve noticed too this has started to slip into books as well, both unpublished and published, indie and traditional. Yet it’s a horrible, redundant word. It’s simply not needed. Get rid, STAT.

2) Liquid

Whether it’s BLOOD or COFFEE, authors in particular have started to call it “liquid” – seriously? Just say what it bloody is, people. C’MON! Also, please for the love of PETE authors, stop obsessing on coffee in general. Same goes for screenwriters, endlessly having their characters “cradling” and “nursing” drinks. STOP IT.

3) Feel

In screenwriting, what you SEE is what you GET, so characters “feeling” anything is pretty redundant. Novel characters don’t fare much better, because it frequently ends up passive. AVOID.

4) Saline

I don’t know if this has *always* happened, but just recently I’ve noted writers – both screenwriters AND novelists – calling TEARS “saline”. I’ve literally read 4-5 published books and a stack of screenplays in the last couple of months doing this. WTAF? Now, I like a good synonym as much as the next wo/man but seriously, there is such a thing as going too far. But don’t take MY word for it, remember veteran author’s Stephen King’s advice here: Don’t describe AROUND the subject, just say what the thing is.

5) Wonder

Just like number 3 on this list, “wonder” opens up a whole world of pain, not just for screenwriters but novelists too, as Fight Club’s Chuck Palahniuk points out when he says we all need to get rid of thought verbs. As Palahnouk right says, words like “wonder” (and its countless synonyms) become short cuts.

6) Clearly

A variation of number 1 on this list. Go to the naughty step!

7) Scalding

OH LOOK! This one is *so* ubiquitous, it’s even in the the actual bloody definition OMFG:


I’m gonna go out on a limb here. NO ONE in the real world takes sips of scalding tea or coffee on a regular basis. I would venture most actual adults KNOW when beverages are too hot to drink.

Yet, according to a huuuuuuge number of published novels, characters SIP SCALDING DRINKS REGULARLY. Yes, they may burn themselves, but why??? WHY  SIP SCALDING DRINKS AT ALL??? 99.9% of the time it doesn’t even serve the story. It just feels like FILLER. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! 

(Oh, by the way, combine “scalding” with “liquid” for maximum RAAAAAAGE points from me! You have been warned … OH and if you want to use “scalding” to do with “scalding words” — WHY NOT. PLEASE DO. JUST DON’T TALK ABOUT SCALDING LIQUIDS OMG! Ok I’m done).

8) Look

An obvious one here, screenwriters and novelists. “Looking” is not a *real* action. And yes, same goes for all its synonyms, from “regard” to “glance” to “gaze” to whatevs, yawn yawn yawn.

So leave this one alone, so when you really DO need it, ie:

Their eyes lock. OH SHIT!

It has actual IMPACT, then. Seriously, have a look through your work. How many synonyms of “look” can you find? Do you need ALL of them?

9) Sit

Too many screenplays – and novels, now you mention it – have what I call “false movement” in. In other words, the writer is so worried about “placing” the characters IN the scene, s/he ends up STAGE MANAGING them, rather than telling a story. Don’t let your scenes become static.

10) Fucking

Okay, actual fucking IS a real action – and if you’ve got this in your screenplay or novel, you’ll get a thumbs up from B2W. No, what I mean here is “fucking” as an ADJECTIVE  to describe *whatever*, especially in speech. It’s hopelessly overused, especially in screenplays but novels too, particularly unpublished ones.

So as hypocritical as it sounds FROM ME, just drop the swearing, okay??? PS. Screw you. MORE: F*ck Off, You C*nts: All About Swearing.

Don’t forget:

Cliche-o-rama phrases like these below DO NOT go down well (chortle) … In prose, dialogue OR in loglines my friends:

“[Character] battles his/her demons”

[To a police character]: “I’ll have your badge!”

“[Character] has to learn to love and live again”

“At the end of the day …”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this …”

“[This story situation is] just the tip of the iceberg”

Want more? Then check out this awesome and alphabetised mammoth list of 681 Cliches To Avoid In Your Creative Writing.


You’re not **off the hook** yet (arf), writers! Here’s one more that turns up endlessly in both spec works and published books I read (I may even have written it myself!). But what is it??? Here you go:

“I let out a breath I didn’t realise I was holding” 

AKA “The Evil Sentence”: if you want to see a STACK of published books that include this phrase, CLICK HERE.

Yes, Yes I know …

AT THE END OF THE DAY, no writer is perfect, I get that – not even me! We all have to BATTLE OUR DEMONS and what I outline here is JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG!! 😛

What is key, however is having the knowledge, wherewithal and WEAPONS to get rid of these pesky beasts. So get going!

Good luck!

Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?

My annual course with LondonSWF, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is perfect not only for wannabe script readers, but savvy writers who want to know how script readers work. Can you afford to miss out??

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic on the right), including feedback from past delegates. We expect it to sell out again, so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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