Thank You For Downloading the Warning Words List

BONUS: Warning Words – The Special Group

Note: If you haven’t downloaded the primary Warning Words list, you can do so right here.

Whereas warning words are strong indicators that improvements can be made to clarity, syntax, style or more generally, appeal… the special group is for words that you should not use at all, for a very special reason.

These are all words that are:

  • meaningless without an accompanying description
  • meaningless without context
  • ambiguous or vague or unclear without context
  • 100% tell – they inform without entertaining or engaging
  • contentious – they make a claim that the reader might not agree with

The rule for all of these words is:

Make the reader think of the word without writing it.

So, don’t tell the reader a character is charismatic. Show the character in a scene where he behaves charismatically. Don’t tell the reader that an old house is creepy. Describe it in a way that makes the reader’s skin crawl. Don’t tell the reader an apparition is terrifying.

Terrify the reader.

Here are the words (this list will no doubt grow):

  • sinister
  • creepy
  • majestic
  • charismatic
  • terrifying (and scary, frightening, etc.)
  • ethereal
  • impressive
  • important
  • awe-inspiring
  • inspiring
  • subtle
  • trivial
  • intense
  • frivolous
  • grave
  • serious
  • confusing (and confused when anything other than a state of mind)
  • tragic (and tragedy)
  • hypnotic
  • irresistible
  • dramatic (but not theatrical)

Now the other side of the coin. You can use any of these words if your intent is to prove yourself wrong.

There are two common paths to this:

  1. The simplest is to misdirect. You want the reader to take for granted that an edifice is solid and permanent, so you call it eternal, because this increases the shock value of destroying it later.
  2. The other is as a shortcut to character development. Early on, describe a character as trivial, grave, shallow or intense, and show as the story progresses that this is just the character’s limited view of themselves, and not the complete picture.

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