Unnecessary Words

When editing manuscripts, I find myself deleting hundreds, if not thousands, of unnecessary words.  Forget plot issues that need solving, it's those filler words that really have to go.  They're cluttering up sentences and paragraphs that would otherwise run smoothly.

To sum it all up in a nutshell - if you can take out words and the sentence still makes sense, get rid of the words.

For example, the word 'well':

More often than not, this word serves no purpose.  Maybe the Tenth Doctor used it a lot and it totally worked as a character quirk, but the thing about spoken dialogue and written dialogue is in the delivery.  There's variation in a spoken word but it's very hard to express that in a book.  "Well, that's a pain," said Cole as she looked at the broken string on her violin.  "Well, maybe we could go out for dinner tonight," said Cole, staring into the empty fridge. Context helps, sure, but don't you think both sentences work better without well?

Words like "well" can be used effectively, but if you're using it, use it sparsely.  Make sure it earns its place. Because that's the other thing about unnecessary words - they get in the way of the action and the emotion.  Sometimes you can just take the word out, other times you have to tweak the whole sentence... either way, you'll have a better manuscript without unnecessary filler words.

Here's a short list taken from Space!Story you might find helpful:

Of course
That (I admit this one is a personal quirk of mine) 
Just (I just want cake!/I WANT CAKE!)
Was (ooooh, that pesky past progressive/passive voice - was running versus ranWas crying versus cried)
Had  (Cole had a cup of tea but it was rapidly cooling/Cole's cup of tea went cold)

There are more, but that's enough to get started. Some of this kind of editing relies on picking up on (or being told about) your own repetitive phrases and words.  And don't feel like you have to get rid of every single use of those words or any of your personal quirks, just limit them so they don't flood your writing.

What words do you frequently find yourself deleting?


  1. "That" is my word too. *sigh* I remember noticing it and then arghing over it afterward as I tried to take all (or almost all) of them out of the MS. Thank goodness for the option to search words! (Ex. She thought that he was her friend. or... He said that it was time.)

    Sue me, I like passive voice for some things. *pets it*

    Have you ever seen published authors to do this and then it gets past editors and you wonder why? I saw it in a Robin Hobb book where she ended one paragraph with a descriptive phrase and began the next paragraph with the same word choice. It felt redundant. Like "the ice storm raged outside the window" and the next paragraph started with "her icy stare" ... yea. I don't know if I'll ever be able to 'read for fun' again. No matter how much my library coworkers berate me for it.

    1. I try and delete "that" as much as I can. Sometimes you need it, but other times it's just in the way.

      I have, which is part of the reason I try not to get rid of every single example. I mean, if editors aren't so fussed, maybe it's not as bad as we think...

      ...Overuse of passive voice still irritates me though :P

      I find if I'm really enjoying a book, I don't worry about sentence structure too much. It is tricky to read for fun when you know the technical side of it too.

  2. "like" is my downfall. I'm bad about "that" and "just" too. I always have a round of edits reserved specifically for filler words.

    1. Me too! Don't you just love the "Find" function in Word Processors?

  3. "Well," "that," and "just" are among my top words to edit. Also, I would say *every* word, good and bad, needs to earn its place in your manuscript. It's not just the repetitive words that are useless, it's *any* word that serves no purpose at all. :)

    1. Indeed, but some words are more useless than others ;)

      (Poor, poor, unwanted words)

  4. Hi, Grammar Nazi here. :) "Was running" is past progressive, not passive voice. Passive voice is "The ball was thrown by Susan," versus "Susan threw the ball." Passive voice changes the subject of the sentence from the person doing the action to the thing to which the action is being done.

    Past progressive is annoying as well, though. It can clutter up a sentence. I don't see any real need to use "was -ing" phrases unless it's relevant that the character gets interrupted in the middle of an action. Example: "I was running from the zombie when a vampire tackled me." From what I've seen, a lot of people use past progressive to up their word count since it allows them to use two words where often, they only need one.

    But yeah, noticing your own repetitive phrases and word-quirks is super-important while editing. My word is "So." I tend to start sentences with it and it's totally unnecessary.

    1. Whoops! Either way, IT NEEDS TO GO :P

      I use So on this blog all the time ^^; It's a bad habit.

      On a side note, I really dislike the term "Grammar Nazi", mostly because of the connotations of the word Nazi. Perhaps "Grammar Expert" or "Grammar Fan" is a better term?

    2. Yeah, I don't necessarily enjoy the term either, but if I use it then everyone knows what I mean, since it's the most widely used/popular term. I considered "What's a better term?" but I came up blank, so...Ack, there I go again with "so." I know someone who calls herself a Grammar B*tch but I don't really see how that's much better than Grammar Nazi.

      Let's start an Order of the Red Pen. We can be the Knights of the Red Pen.


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