Avoid These Words in Your Novel (and What to Replace Them With)

If you are writing a novel, the last thing you want to do is unintentionally alienate your audience. The printed word lives forever, and people do not always read your words with the same tone of voice in which you wrote them. If you have spent countless hours thinking through character development, plot twists, and alternative endings to finally settle on how your novel unfolds, it can be incredibly gut-wrenching for one word to ruin it for your reader.

Words can have alternative meanings, and you might offend your audience by using a questionable word in the wrong context. Other words may be overused or less precise than a better selection. Word choice can impact your novel in a significant way. Here are some words you want to avoid in your novel along with some suggestions on what to replace them with.


As the word has become more frequently used, there has been plenty of discussion about the pendejo meaning. Originally, the word referred to young teenagers trying to act like adults. In the 1600s, many people would say someone was a pendejo, meaning they were a coward. If you came across this interpretation and thought it’d be a unique word to incorporate into your novel, think again.

As the word has become more commonly used in slang, pendejo’s meaning has evolved to be a vulgar insult. Put nicely, pendejo means someone is an idiot. Most often, unfortunately, it is used synonymously with calling someone an “a-hole.” If you were hoping you found a creative way to describe someone as a coward in your novel, you’ll be much safer sticking with coward or chicken. If you were using it in the context of the word idiot, some creative alternatives might include simpleton or dull-minded.


On the other end of the spectrum, you might be using words that lack any creativity whatsoever. In a novel with tens of thousands of words, strongly evaluate if the word “very” adds any value whenever you use it. Many times, people skip over the word in print. It has become so frequently used that it has lost any significance.

If your sentence does call for added emphasis or intensity, consider more vivid words, such as incredibly, exceptionally, or extremely. Other alternatives might include immensely, extraordinarily, or remarkably. The word you are describing will guide you to the best substitution because one word will likely flow the best within the rest of the sentence.


If someone is engulfed in your story, they are reading it as if they are there. Words like “then” can disrupt the immersion and pull the reader out of the moment. Examine if the word “then” is necessary for the flow of the story. If you are simply using it to start your next sentence or state what comes next, you can almost assuredly eliminate it. The reader is following along with your story, so they assume the next sentence is what is happening next. They do not need you to tell them “then” for context.

If you are using the word to connect a thought or reach a conclusion rather than chronologically, there are probably some better choices. In that context, “therefore” or “in that case” will produce the same effect without running the risk of distracting the reader.


This word should remain in your novel if you are using it to describe something as fair or morally right. Outside of this context, be honest with yourself when assessing the word’s value in your novel. More often than not, it is just unnecessary.

See what we did there? The example in that last sentence shows how the meaning remains the exact same if you take out “just.” Similar to “very,” this word has lost its significance, especially in print. If readers are going to skip over the word anyway, why waste ink by putting it in your novel?


Writing a novel is no easy task. You will be staring at your screen for hours each day and typing thousands of words over many sessions. Make sure those words count. There are certain words you want to avoid in your novel.

We used the example of pendejo to prove a bigger point about how creative words might mean more than you know if you don’t fully research them. We also investigated some overly used words in print and provided some alternatives if you can’t eliminate the word altogether.

Whether you are on word 100 or 100,000, take pride in your accomplishment and take pride in your editing. Remember that word choice can substantially affect the enjoyability of your novel. Be objective and honest when you assess if each word is necessary or if there is a better selection.


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