Grammar for Fiction Writers: Busy Writer's Guides Book (2014)

Part II. Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t

Chapter 8. Crutch Words

This chapter is a short one about three crutch words that you want to avoid.

LITERALLY

Literally is often used to add hyperbole to a sentence. (Hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration.) But because literally in the strictest sense means that something took place, it can make for some humorous sentences.

“My head literally exploded.”

Ouch! Glad I’m not the one who has to clean that up.

“I walked a hundred miles to get there. Literally.”

I bet you have some nasty blisters on your feet.

Unless you’re intentionally using literally in character dialogue, this word doesn’t belong in your fiction. You don’t need to tell the reader that something actually happened in the strictest sense. If you describe it as happening in your story world, they will know that it literally happened.

The one exception to this would be if you’re writing a first person narrator, but even then, use literally with caution.

OBVIOUSLY

Obviously should only be used to describe an action that is easily observable, recognized, or understood. Not everyone uses it that way.

“Obviously, he shouldn’t have bought that car. Everyone knows they’re lemons.”

It probably wasn’t obvious at the time that he shouldn’t have purchased the car. If it was obvious, he wouldn’t have done it.

Just like literally, this should only be used strategically in dialogue (or with a first person narrator) and never in the prose of your fiction.

HONESTLY

Honestly often gets used to try to add veracity to a statement. Unfortunately, it implies that you otherwise would have lied.

“I honestly don’t know why she did that.”

It makes you sound like you’re trying too hard to be believed. If you’re adding this to dialogue and that’s the impression you’re trying to give, go ahead. Otherwise, you’re best to avoid honestly, too.

Because these terms are so often used incorrectly in speech, it can be difficult to strip them from our writing, but it’s worth trying our best.