Writing & Editing: Find & Eliminate Undescriptive, Empty Words

Word are a writer’s currency, and we must use them judiciously. Words that serve no real purpose except to fill space because they sound good are a waste of our word count and our readers’ time. Remember that the reader has a movie of your story playing in his head. Choose words that add to that movie.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, “The Writing Process: Find & Eliminate Stupid Words“, I’m working on editing a paranormal thriller novel, and I figured I would share some of the things I’m looking for in this week’s blog posts. Monday, I posted my working prologue before any of these edits. At the end of the week, I will post the prologue after the edits.

Today’s editing directive: seek out and eliminate words that take up space without painting a picture.

Here is my list of words that I seek out and try to eliminate if possible:

  • Not (I use this often with “was” as in “He was not doing anything.” (Notice the “do.”) My theory: If a character is not doing something, then he is doing something else. Unless I need to draw a comparison in the reader’s mind, I find that I can better paint a picture by focusing on what my character is doing. For instance, “He flicked a crabapple at the road, wishing for a bit of adventure,” tells the reader more than, “he was not doing anything.”)
  • n’t (Same as not. This takes a while to find, however, because my characters speak in contractions.)
  • There (I only allow a “there” if it refers to something’s location, such as “over there.” Otherwise, bye bye!)
  • Rather (My characters tend to be “rather annoyed” or “rather happy.” Taking out the rather sounds better and conserves words. Don’t be tempted to try to sound pompous and replace it with “quite”. I do it all the time and then have to do a “quite” search.
  • By (Passive voice indicator. Like “there,” this should be used only in reference to location.)
  • Very DO NOT USE EXCEPT IN DIALOGUE! Yes, I’m yelling.
  • That (“That” can be a legitimate pronoun, as in “Do you want this or that?” You can also use it as a part of a modifying phrase, as in “Grab the paint that we used yesterday.” However, we often tend to use “that” as a filler. If it doesn’t serve a grammatical purpose, eliminate it!”
  • as (“As” has a great many gramatical purposes, but if you want to write “He tried to make it as easy as possible,” you probably could just say, “He tried to make it easy.”
  • Then Then is one of the great fillers of the universe. We all use it about two-thirds more than we should.
  • Certainly If your character “knows he certainly should open the door for the lady,” he also knows “he should open the door for the lady.”
  • Nice (An undescriptive adjective. Don’t say “She looked nice.” Make it juicy. And don’t say “She was nice.” Show her kindness.
  • Just “He was just rearing to go” can be changed…
  • Really DO NOT USE EXCEPT IN DIALOGUE!
  • Finally Overused filler.
  • Suddenly Overused filler.
  • With that “With that, Michelle realized she used ‘with that’ as a filler.”
  • As Far As “As far as this phrase is concerned, it’s not needed” can be shortened to “This phrase is not needed” or better yet, “Don’t use this undescriptive phrase.”
  • Some Sort My character always use some sort of something…
  • One of the most Overused filler.
  • Found himself “Davian found himself in the heart of a battle” can be made better. Show the battle and the surprise. Don’t tell.
  • Just as “Just as I thought I was done…”
  • As soon as Overused filler.
  • Went Back Replace with “returned.”
  • Inside of Usually can use “inside”
  • Out of Usually can use “out”
  • Off of Usually can use “off”
  • A lot DO NOT USE EXCEPT IN DIALOGUE!

Here are some of the changes I made to the prologue after searching for these words:

  • “The wind and the action from the hunt had pulled some of his hair out of the ponytail, but he had not bothered to retie it.” I replaced “not bothered” with “forgotten.”
  • Passive Voice Alert! “Gustave heard the marquis let out a cry of horror followed by the thud of his rifle falling to the ground.” Changed to “Gustave heard the marquis let out a cry of horror and his rifle hit the ground with a thud.”
  • “Some accused Chastel of poaching, insisting that he spent time in prison for it.” Changed to “Some accused Chastel of poaching, insisting he spent time in prison for it.”
  • “Not that it mattered. Not that any of this actually mattered.” I like the drama building here, but I figured I should get rid of one, which would change up the rhythm and grab the reader’s attention. Changed to “Not that it mattered. None of this actually mattered.”
  • “Gustave turned away and walked home, feeling sick to his stomach. What would happen to the villager’s joy when la Bête killed again?” This “would is appropriate, but I realized that I could make the sentence better–especially with the word “walked.” Changed to “Gustave turned away and trudged home, feeling sick to his stomach from listening to their short-lived joy. La Bête would kill again.”
  • “He would burn it later” changed to “He intended to burn it later”.

Stay tuned for tomorrow when we chat about cheesy cliches!

Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.

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About M. B. Weston

Award-winning author M. B. Weston is one of the fantasy genre’s new, emerging voices. The Elysian Chronicles, her flagship fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, has been referred to as, “…filling a big part of the void that will be left by the final Harry Potter,” by award-winning author, Vincent O’Neil. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. The Elysian Chronicles is being adapted into a graphic novel, and her newest book, The Sword of the Vanir (working title), is due out in Spring 2013. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and ImagiCon. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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One Response to Writing & Editing: Find & Eliminate Undescriptive, Empty Words

  1. Pingback: Working With Editors: Eliminate Forms of “To Be” & “Had” | M. B. Weston's Official Website

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