Monday, February 1, 2010

Those Unnecessary Words

I've been totally focused on a major overhaul of a manuscript this past month, and sharing some of that focus on my blog has helped me through the process. I'm winding down, but before I move on I have a couple of final revisions.

First, I'm scouring my 70, 0000 words to see which ones I don't need. What I've discovered while doing this hunt for unnecessary words in the past is this: I usually find a better, more interesting way to phrase something when I discard them.

One of the most frequent culprits I like to root out is any form of the BE verb. Of course, you can't get rid of all your Be verbs, but some you can. Here's an example of what happened during a revision session.

"By eight the kids were finally in bed."

"I tucked the kids into bed by eight."

I liked the word tucked. It was more visual and more active. I felt it helped characterize my protagonist too because tucking conveyed caring, something I wanted the reader to know about this person.

Here are some other examples of what can happen to sentences when you're able to delete those am, is are, was, were, be, been verbs.

Paloma will be tried today at ten a. m. (Ho hum.)
Paloma's trial begins today at ten a.m. (Much more to the point and active.)

Mr. Polk was against the wall, his hands overhead. (So? What's the point?)
Mr. Polk cowered against the wall, his hands overhead. (Now I can see Mr. Polk and I know something scary is happening to him.)

I was so scared, listening to the gunshots coming from outside my apartment door. (Really. Let's talk about it over at lunch.)

Crouched and shaking behind the sofa, I cupped my hands over my ears to muffle the gunshots coming from outside my apartment door. (OMG!)

There is another of those words that can trot off to the trash, thank you very much, and that's because where there's a there, there's a BE verb on its heels.

There's something evil in that house. (Blaach!)
Evil lurks in that house. (Euuuu!)

Also THAT clauses can really drag down a story, so I reduce them by deleting the head word, THAT.

I knew that he wanted a cat.
I knew he wanted a cat. (Easy peasy change and nobody will miss that THAT.)

Just Just Just Just Just

I read a novel not so long ago that just about drove me nuts. Just because things were just supposed to be happening at every turn in the story, didn't justify (sorry) the use of "just" every other paragraph. I was just so fed up by the second chapter that I just picked up my pen and started crossing out one "just" after another. Since I've read that novel, I've just edited out "just" every time I use it.

Even is even beginning to annoy me. It's not quite as irksome as "just," but just about. I take out a lot of EVENs and after I've done that I don't miss them.

I have a few more words that don't make the cut, but this post is long enough already. Maybe you have some favorite unnecessary words you'd like to share with us?


  1. Great suggestions. "Just" and "that" are pet peeves of mine, too, yet I continue to overuse them! I'm learning a lot from your revision posts--more please.

  2. Love it! I am going to go over my ms right now to cut the be verbs and justs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Perfect timing as this will be the final, final revision (I thought I was done, but I want to give it another once over with your tips!!)

  3. Just, that, there--yes, I like to cut those words. Thanks for the reminder and conversion examples.

    Another word that crops up in my writing is, maybe. Maybe a little too often. Maybe I need to cut it some, maybe.

  4. So right! I know I overuse just and there. Great Post! :-)

  5. Paul nailed another good for nothing or at least overused word. Maybe. Yes! Let's cull those puppies and offer up the most perfect prose to our editors. :) We'll probably get chocolate kisses, right? I mean in addition to a marvelous contract.

  6. Superb examples of changing passive sentences to active, exciting ones, Lee.
    I'm always weeding out that and just but they still sneak in.

  7. I smiled all the way through this - I could have written this exact post :)

    Love the Find tool!

  8. I couldn't believe how many "to be" words, "just"s, and "suddenly"s my editor had me remove from my first book. And I already knew they were no-nos, but didn't even realize I'd been using them a lot. Thanks for your comforting post. It's great to know I'm not the only one.

  9. Oh, and I love the pictures you use!


  11. WONDERFUL! I work on removing those "thats" too, and those "thens."

  12. Love it! Good reminder of what to look for when revising. Another of mine that come up too often is "but." Basically I look for any words that repeat to close to one another, like in the same paragraph.

  13. I'm really bad with the justs. Glad to hear it wasn't just me. ;)

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