Want to know what D.D. Johnston’s favourite book was when he was a kid? Probably not. But he’s going to use it to illustrate a rule of storytelling that holds for almost every genre of writing.
There are a few words that you should treat with the utmost suspicion: just, really, quite, literally, very. Mark Twain advised, ‘Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.’ As for ‘literally’, its misuse often results in absurdity.
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We all know that cliches make for bad writing, but why are they so problematic? Why do we feel almost outraged when we read one? And when are cliches not a problem?