Updated: I removed one word that wasn't as important as another word in this list. It's so useless, it made it to the top with this update.
Some words are so common in written English that we often don't think twice about using them in our own writing. However, these words can actually water down your writing or even cause your writing to come across as a little too vague for the reader. Take your writing up a notch by removing these 9 commonly used, but generally useless words as often as possible.
- Very - Except in dialogue, "very" should be eliminated. Period. Nothing should ever be "very" anything else. No "very" bright, "very" tall, "very" dark. Use an actual descriptor. "Excessively" tall, for example.
- Had - When you say your character "had" some trait or some object, or "had" to do something, there is often a better way of saying this. Try replacing "had" with words like "possessed", "obtained", "needed", "wanted".
- Made/Make - I saw a post somewhere in which the poster asked, "What does 'made' mean, anyhow?" Or, in other words, if you write "Laura's voice made Jack want to scream", aren't you really saying "Laura's voice drove Jack crazy"? Isn't it better to just write that?
- As - It's okay to say "as well as" or "as he knew", but too often, "as" is substituted for "when", "while", and "at the same time as". Try to use the words for which you've substituted "as" from time to time.
- Was - This one is tricky, because "was" feels pretty essential to writing. However, rather than relying on the "was" crutch, try to find other ways to get your idea across. For example, "his hair was brown" might become "The sunlight lit up the golden highlights in his brown hair."
- Felt, Heard, Saw - Although these seem essential to describing your character's experience, that isn't necessarily true. In order to keep the description of your character's experience as tight as possible, try substituting an action description in place of what your character "felt", "heard", or "saw". For example, "she felt blinded by the brightness of the reflected sun" might become "The summer sun beating down on the parking lot reflected off of the car windows and blinded her for a moment." Think of it this way, in your own head, you don't think to yourself "I feel like the sun is blinding me", so why would your character think that?
Once you start making some of these substitutions, the practice will become habit, and it won't be as time-consuming. Once you do get in the habit of going for the harder word choices, I guarantee you'll notice a difference in the quality of your writing and the reaction of your readers right away.