by A Francis Raymond
I made my writing teacher’s skin crawl. Not because I wrote a gripping and compelling horror story, but because in the first 20 pages of my manuscript, I’d overused the word “just.”
There’s no reason for it, she argued. It’s a prop for vague writing. It doesn’t help create an active or compelling scene. It’s a word often misused and adds nothing to the text.
She said we needed to remove ALL instances from our manuscript. All? I questioned. Yes, all.
That evening I went home and found almost 700 instances of the word “just” in my 80,000 word manuscript. I removed all but 4. (The 4 I left alone were in dialog. It seemed natural for my character to use it in speech – I figured that was allowed.)
Rather than continue to tell you how the word “just” weakens your writing, let me show you. Consider:
“The men were too young, married, or just not attractive.” vs. “The men were too young, married, or not attractive.”
“She just knew that she couldn’t live in this place.” vs. “She couldn’t live in this place.”
“He just grabbed her and kissed her.” vs. “He grabbed her and kissed her.”
and my favorite (because I like sci-fi):
“He just wanted to take a final glimpse of the alien sky just before boarding the very large spaceship.” vs. “He took a final glimpse of the alien sky, then boarded the enormous spaceship.”
When you’re trying to write flash fiction every word counts. Why waste it on a word that just doesn’t help?
(Note: “Just” isn’t the only adverb prop you might want to eliminate from your writing. Here is a list of other commonly mis-used or overused adverbs:
actually, any, awfully, basically, definitely, finally, hardly, here, just, just as, nearly, pretty, quite, rather, really, somewhat, soft of, strange, such, there)