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On Filler Words

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Anonymous asked: “I have a terrible attachment with just. I use it way too much in my writing, and I know it’s one of those words you should avoid, along with very and really. The problem is I don’t know what words to replace it with.”

Just, very, and really are what I’d call filler words. They don’t actually serve much of a purpose in writing unless they’re part of the voice and they don’t make much of an impact on the sentence. 

For instance, if you write, “it was really hot outside,” the reader won’t have any clearer idea of the temperature than if you’d said instead, “it was hot outside.” Generally it is better to delve into deeper description – you know that it’s hot. 

What does that look like? Feel like? Who’s the first of your characters to comment on the heat? You say it’s 102 degrees Fahrenheit. You describe how the family dog is panting and how someone wipes sweat off their forehead with the back of their hand. There is no need for “it was really hot outside.” 

Really and very are easy enough to just get rid of – the same argument for really applies just as much to very. But just is a little bit different. I don’t avoid just the same way I might edit out a really or a very. If any of these words are in dialogue, I leave them for the most part, unless it’s been excessive. In exposition though, just is hit or miss. 

If you find yourself using it often, it can become a crutch. Like with really or very, the sentences that rely on just often aren’t the strongest sentences. You could write, “Batman was just a man” or you can write a scene where someone actually gets a good look at him in his costume and notices he doesn’t actually have super powers. Having it fleshed out into a fully formed scene where you as the writer can show the statement you’re implying will help your writing. You still might end up using the word just from time to time, but if you can say it another way, it’s a good exercise and it’ll keep you from developing bad habits. 

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