Whether we’re writing screenplays or novels, there are multiple filler words that take up unnecessary space. Chew on these little blighters that creep into our scene descriptions and novel sentences and make sure you CHOP THEM OUT today!

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1) Just

‘Just’ is actually a good word and has several functions, including time (as in ‘recently’) or to make sentences stronger (‘Just STOP!’).

Unfortunately, writers let it creep in so often it becomes a beat in the sentence and adds to flabby prose.

2) Really

This is a word that relates to certainty, but yet again, writers just use it randomly as a filler, so much so they may use two of them together! As Prince would say in Housequake, ‘I mean, really? REALLY.’

3) Very

This one is to add emphasis, as in ‘The situation is very serious.’ Immediately we know it’s not *just* serious (arf). But again, writers shove lots of ‘verys’ in, so dilute its power. As a result, it’s gotta go!

4) Ask

This word relates to either a question or a request, but turns up waaaay too often in novels – especially when we consider all its synonyms like ‘enquire’. Bleurgh. In screenplays, characters may talk about asking one another more than actually ask the questions in the first place! Ack. Cut, cut, cut.

5) Those pesky ‘ly’ words

Veteran writer and supreme wordsmith Stephen King said, ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs’ and he’s not wrong!

Adverbs are those ‘ly’ words like completely, definitely, totally, absolutely, supremely, darkly, finally etc etc. Littering your novel or screenplay with them is NOT a good idea. So here is some custom writing help – take them all out. Oh look – better already!

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6) Some

This word is a ‘determiner’ which means how it’s used will give us an indication of what is meant by it. For example:

  • Some people don’t know when to keep their traps shut.
  • Wow, that was some party!

As you can see, one connotes anger and the other connotes the notion it was good. You know which is which from the context.

‘Some’ also may be used to give the impression of a ‘large amount’ of something too, ie. ‘It will be some time before I can face them’.

As ever though, SOME writers just shove it in cuz they feel like it!

7) Start

No novelist or screenwriter needs the word ‘start’, especially when it comes to the actions of their characters. If characters are not what they say, but what they DO, then they should just DO STUFF! (With this in mind, get rid of ‘goes to …’ as well – ta to fellow script editor @ellinst for the nudge.)

8) Shrug

A verb, the dictionary defines ‘shrug’ as ‘to raise your shoulders and then lower them in order to say you do not know or are not interested’. This is okay as an action goes, but is wildly overused. It becomes filler when writers shove it in to fill a line. If you find yourself using it every scene, you really need to take another look at your writing.

9) Then

This word refers to time, either ‘before’ or ‘future’ … but given our stories need to feel CURRENT and in the ‘now’ (whatever tense/person you’re using, whether novel or screenplay), it’s unlikely you even need this one at all. Try chopping it out and seeing what happens. Bet you don’t even miss it!

10) But

‘But’ is used to introduce an added statement, usually something that is different from what you have said before, ie.

  • She’s not a screenwriter but a novelist (= she is a novelist, not a screenwriter).
  • She’s not only a novelist, but also a screenwriter (= she is both).

BUT (!) it seems writers have a dose of the ‘Vicky Pollards’ – “Yeah … but … No … but … yeah … but!!” GET RID!

Which of the above do you use too much? Share in the comments!

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8 Responses to 10 Writing Fillers To Cut Right Now

  1. Jessica says:

    I start too much and I shrug too much. As for the rest of the mentioned words I’m very careful in using them because I don’t like to see them too often either in a story.
    As English is not my native language I find it hard sometimes to think of the right words to describe a scene in a unique way. These are the weak moments that I would use these fillers to fill up my story. But they usually don’t survive the rewrite process. :-)

  2. Lilia F says:

    What do you think of using an adjective creatively, as in “John wanted to collectively kill them?”

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Depends on the context. Adverbs can work, when used sparingLY and like you say, creativeLY 😉 But then arguably they’re *not* filler words, they work

  3. Bob C says:

    Lucy:
    “All things in moderation,” has always been my guide. I think of these words as alcoholic drinks. A few sips are fine but overindulging is not a good thing. As British writer Robert Herrick wrote:
    “In things a moderation keep; Kings ought to shear, not skin, their sheep.”
    In other words, to go bonkers with the chop chop chopping is overkill.

  4. Bob C says:

    PS — I love the auto-notice on my first post: “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” Perfect.

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