I’m 110% ready for the backlash I’m going to get for this one. I know a lot of people hate the word very.
They hate the word very, very much.
I tend to get defensive over the blacklisting of words that aren’t harming anyone. I know that there are words we should remove from our vocabulary. There are words that are offensive, cruel, and have a sordid history. I’m completely fine with the removal of those words.
Very isn’t one of them.
I believe filler words like very have a place in modern literature. Just like really, we shouldn’t get rid of them just because they’re filler words. Very doesn’t have much meaning.
It could be replaced by a thousand and one other words. Hell, google gives me eight in just the synonyms section of the definition.
But, very holds a strong character and written choice. It can set the tone of the narrator or how the main character tells their story. A teenage girl in the mid 2000s is going to use the word very. And like. And really. These are all filler words that mean nothing or at least could be replaced by better terms…but sets the tone on how this character expresses themselves.
Very is word I wouldn’t discount in dialogue. People talk simply. I learned over the years while working in journalism that the scripts that work and read the best were the simplest. We didn’t use complicated words or a lot of prepositions. We used short, sweet, and to the point sentences that people could understand, because that’s how people talk.
I challenge you to just listen to a few conversations. If possible (and if not absurdly creepy), write them down. Listen to different age groups during a lunch break or during a walk in the park, observe your own friends and how you communicate with them. You’ll see that words like very, really, like, and um are used frequently. You’ll hear contradictory phrases that make total sense to you but shouldn’t. Think of the phrase “yeah, no.” It uses both the affirmative and the negative, but you know it means a very firm no. Like they’ve thought of it for a second and gave the final no.
Spoken language is an important aspect to your novel. It’s the dialogue, and just because a bunch of snobbish writers who published these award-winning novels say you shouldn’t use it, doesn’t mean you can’t. Your novel might not be the literary call-out of every modern day problem. Your novel might just be a coming-of-age novel. Or a story that’s narrator is just like you. Those are great novels too. Not everything is Moby Dick. (And just by a quick google search Herman Melville used very (by both its definitions) multiple times in his book. So take that literary snobs.)
Don’t discount very. Don’t discount words because you want to sound smart. Write the novel that feels right. Even if it uses very.
Because very can be very useful.
Let me know what sort of quirks you hear when people talk. Do you incorporate them into your novel? Do you try to avoid cliche lines? Words like very? Let me know in the comments below.