Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wednesday Writing Tip ~ 4/11

Editing - Cutting Unnecessary Words
Continuing on from last week's tip, another trick that really helped me tighten my writing was to find filler/filter words that I overused.  Filler words are ones that don't really belong in your novel in most cases.  For some reason, they trip naturally off your fingers as you type, and seem like they belong.  Here is a pretty comprehensive list someone once gave me:

 just, then, that, feel, feeling, felt, there, knew, know, maybe, see, saw, hear, heard, could, couldn't, ly adverbs, up, down, was, were, wonder, think, thought, realize, watch, look, can, decide, sound, so.

Again, as with was, sometimes you do actually need a word on this list and it is appropriate to use it, just remember, a little goes a long way.  See if sentences can be rearranged to take the filler word out or use a stronger word to express the same idea.  Let us live through the action with your characters, instead of using these words and distancing us from them.

Example:  Kelly felt the cool breeze against her skin.  She knew tomorrow would be a hard day when the trial started.  She wondered what Eric was doing right now.  Was he watching the same stars, thinking of her?

The bold words need to go (if possible) right?  We want to feel Kelly's anxiety, be inside her head.

A cool breeze caressed Kelly's skin, raising goosebumps.  She shuddered.  The trial started tomorrow.  It would be terrifying to face all those people.  Perhaps she caught Eric's fear while visiting him this afternoon.  Kelly shook off her melancholy and gazed into the night sky.  Maybe Eric sat in his jail cell right now, peering through the bars on the window at these same stars.  Did he even consider her? Did he worry what the trial would do to her? 

I know, I always add so many more words when I show how to get rid of the ones that don't belong.  The deal is, when I visualize the scene, sometimes it requires more words to explain so the reader can live in the moment with me.  I hope you agree that it is easier to become invested in Kelly's plight with the second example.

Notice I did use the word maybe even thought it's on the "Do Not Use" list.  As with everything, not all advice is absolute. Personally, I like the word maybe.  I like the feel of it.  I'm always aware when I choose to use it that I'm not 'supposed to,' but I do choose to use it.  Artistic license, writer's voice, all that good stuff.  Don't compromise yourself or your writing voice, just to follow someone else's rule.  This little tidbit took me a long time to figure out, so keep it front in your mind.  Ultimately, you are the creator.  If you really want to break one of the rules, break it, just know that you are.

My biggest word problem, not on the list, was the word "had."  On my first-ever critique, a critter told me to do a search for had and take them all out.  Apparently, she thought I overused it.  She must have not understood my vision, my wonderful writing abilities and my... Oh, no!!

Boy was my face red!  Had appeared in one single paragraph five times! And it only needed to be there once!  I'm also quite partial to "so" and "that" and always have to go through to ax those suckers.

Tighten words wherever you can.  Be brutal!  At first when I started revising Always and Forever, chapters 12 and 13 were horrible, even though I redid them several times.  That's when I realized a lot of stuff needed to be cut out.  I axed over 1000 words, turning two chapters into one, and it was horribly difficult to do.  But really, cutting is much easier since then and I've improved in my ability to see when something doesn't work.  I will now cut entire paragraphs without batting an eyelash if they aren't really helping the story.

Ruthlessly cut any word that isn't adding to your work.  I won't lie, it hurts at first to throw away your words, but will help you in the long run (besides, if it is a lot of words at a time, you don't have to really throw them away--save them to a different document and maybe you can use them later).

Here is another blog that shows an example on cutting these filler/filter words writeitsideways.

Happy writing, everyone!  Have a fantastic week!


  1. Great advice, Chantel. And timely. I'm trying to get rid of about 30,000 words (you read that right). 'Just' is one of my most favorite, most overused words. But, I just need it! Most of the time. ;)

    1. 30,000 words? Wow, that's a lot of cutting. Thanks for reading my blog. Isn't it funny how we all have our words that we overuse? Good luck with the edits! I hope it goes really well for you!

  2. Another very useful post, Chantel. I used to start a lot of sentences with But ... but once it was pointed out to me I tried to stop it. We can always use a reminder of unnecessary words and it hit this on the head.


    1. Thanks, Travis. Funny thing you mention but. I received a critique just the other day where I had started two sentences with But... they sneak in there, don't they? Thanks for reading!

  3. I can't imagine who gave you a crit calling you on your use of But. That's a horrible habit of mine that I am trying to break.

    Editing/revising for me is a mixed bag. It includes the cutting of unnecessary words, as you mention, but for me it also includes adding words to flesh out sensory details.

    I some writers are taker-outters, and their first drafts tend to be very long and wordy pruning, and some writers are putter-inners, with first drafts that are basically bare bones story that need to be strengthened with things like description.

    I'm a putter-inner. I already know my current WIP will likely gain 5k words upon rewrite, even after all the hacking I do of hads and buts and wases and -lys.

    1. Hmmm... I wonder who that was? LOL Seriously good catch though, Michele!

      I agree, it does go both ways. My problem was at the end of the book I ended up needing to add more actual scenes, and then I had too many words and needed to figure out where to cut. I'm overly wordy instead of too sparse. Your way is probably easier, but I just love words! ;-)

  4. Oooh, I do the same thing. My biggie is the word "that" because I tend to over use it. I know how to eliminate it, but I can't help that it finds its way into my drafts. :)

    Another word that I scan for is "really" because tada...I use it a lot too.

    Good reminders. I'm copying this list of words!


    1. Isn't it crazy? Even when you know it's a problem word, it still makes it in the draft. Had shows up all over for me. I still have to watch out for it.

      Oh, yeah! 'Really' is like 'very' for me. It sounds so good at the time... Thanks for reading, Diane!


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