I realize there are lists of words that writers aren't supposed to use, but does the same apply to dialog?

Examples of the word lists I'm referring to:

4 Answers 4


The dialogue should above all be natural and matching the characters.

That means there is no list of "wrong words" in general. Only "per character" - meaning you won't have a junkie punk speaking in elaborate formal language, nor, conversely, a scientist using street slang. The language used should be such, as given character would use normally in given situation.

This applies to all in-world texts, not just dialogue. If your story contains snippets of letters, texts of labels on some containers, samples of terrible prose written by a teenage protagonist, all these "good writing" rules are replaced with "believable, realistic, matching the context." The "good writing" rules essentially apply only to narration.

Of course don't overdo it. If you pictured your first-person protagonist as coming from Russia, it vould be silly to ryeplyace all narryation with russyan accyent. Keep the core text following rules of good writing and modify it to match "special needs" only as extra flavors. Your Russian protagonist may mention some russian cussword or otherwise express their nationality, but - as the central character of the story - should stick to proper English with rules like "avoiding weak words" observed.

  • 1
    Although not for anything, I think a short story written in russyan accent like Chekov on great wodka bender vith Sulu could be very entertaining. :) Apr 7, 2015 at 23:47
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    @LaurenIpsum: Yes, if it's to be both 1. short, 2. humorous. It's tiring in the long run, so for a novel it would be a no-no. And it's really hard to convey serious messages and keep serious mood with that style.
    – SF.
    Apr 8, 2015 at 7:21
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    @sf Yes. I've occasionally read a story or seen a movie that took one joke that was indeed funny ... and then stretched it out to 250 pages, so there was either 249 pages of build-up to a one-line joke, or a one-line joke repeated 250 times. Either way, the humor value is pretty much lost.
    – Jay
    Apr 9, 2015 at 15:34
  • @Jay longestjokeintheworld.com over 10,000 words for one mediocre pun. They call this kind of jokes 'groaner'.
    – SF.
    Apr 10, 2015 at 7:23
  • This should be done in "short bursts" of 1-2 lines at most. "And Ah'm jes a l'll ole southern gal who wants to be mo' New Yawk th'n the New Yawkers."
    – Tom Au
    Apr 18, 2015 at 15:54

Most beginning writers forget that their narrator is a person with a character who speaks in a voice and narrates in a style that befits his personality. Whichever words (and grammar and imagery and so on) you use or don't use is determined by the character of your narrator. In literature, no words or expressions are forbidden or unusable in and of themselves.

The resources you list are unreliable in that they dogmatically recommend to avoid certain words, irrelevant of your writing style, audience and story. There are many works of fiction in which the narrative rests on just these words and would no longer work without them.


I think that the articles you cite look like very bad advice. I see what they're saying, but I wonder if following these rules will really cause a reader to decide that a story touches them more or makes them realize deeper insights.

Okay, seriously -- and I admit up front, I am about to get highly opinionated here: Yes, there's a point in there about drawing the reader into the action. But to say that using these words makes a bad story and not using them makes a good story is not just mind-numbingly simplistic, it's in an entirely wrong direction.

"She wondered how she could make it across the busy road" is lame but "How could she make it across the busy road?" is enthralling? Get real. If only good writing could be reduced to such a simple formula. The argument here seems to be that writing in the first person, or a sort of pseudo-first person, is good; but writing in the third person is bad. No. Each has its place. Learn the pros and cons of each.

The to-be article is even sillier. For example, it contrasts "That school is great" -- bad sentence, with "That school has wonderful teachers, terrific students, and supportive parents" -- good sentence. I agree that the second is a more interesting sentence. But is the important difference that the first uses "is" and the second doesn't? No. What if we rewrote them as, "That school does great" and "That school is a place with wonderful teachers, terrific students, and supportive parents." Now I've switched which uses "is" and which doesn't. Did that make the first sentence the better one? No. The difference is that the first has no depth, it gives us no reason for the judgment, while the second gives some explanation. Actually I think the second is still a pretty dull sentence, as it gives no clue why the writer thinks the teachers are wonderful, etc. It's still a statement of unsupported opinion, just a slightly more detailed one.

There may be some simple formulas to better writing, but I don't think these are it.

End of opinionated rant.


No. Filter words in dialogue don't matter. You can do what you want in dialogue. Would it be cliche to write in a narration that it was raining cats and dogs outside? Yes it would because this is creative writing. Surely you can come up with a better way to describe it raining hard. But if your character runs inside, dripping wet, and exclaims,"Damn. It's raining cats and dogs out there!" Maybe that's how the character talks.

"I watched her run into the burning building." vs "She ran into the burning building."

The two will say the same thing to the casual reader. The first is supposedly wrong because of the filter word, but what if the character feels guilty about watching and doing nothing. So there very well can be a time when filter words are just fine.

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