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My Two Cents on Unnecessary Words

Hello there my lovelies! It’s Sunday, so here I am giving you my opinion on another writing topic. I planned to make today’s post a review of a book I’m reading on NetGalley, but it was a crazy week and I didn’t get through it, so hopefully, I’ll have that for you next week. In the meantime, today I’m giving you My Two Cents on Unnecessary Words. Filler words if you will. Extra words. Whatever you want to call them, I’m talking about words your manuscript doesn’t need.

Ok, so this topic follows up on last week’s Word Count post in helping you cut words from your count. But whether you’re trying to cut your word count, or you want to tighten up your manuscript to make it the strongest you can, this post is for you. Writing is a craft that needs to be worked on, and learning from those who came before us, can only serve to make us better at it.


As is becoming tradition, since I’m the first to admit I’m not an expert, I’m going to give you a couple of links to blogs/articles I found helpful for searching out those pesky words you don’t need. These are only a few of the million articles I found when doing research, but if you have another you found invaluable, please feel free to share it and I’ll add them. 


“Remove these 30 Words…” (Service Scape Blog)



43 Words you should cut…” (Diana Urban Blog)


The point of this post is not to have you taking a scalpel to your manuscript, well… not completely. If you’re like me, and you use too many words, maybe your manuscript needs a scalpel. But even if you don’t over-write, I’m sure we can all admit there are ways to tighten up our work, and if you apply these tips, you might find that your writing reads better.


*Side note* with all the examples of words I’ll mention below, my process is to do a “ctrl+F” (Find in Word/Google Docs) to search for the words and highlight them to my attention. 


Anyway, here are some of the top takeaways I got from my research on the topic.


1. Use “ly” words sparingly.


Adverbs that end in “LY” have become a kinda dirty word in the writing community and sometimes take an unfair beating if you ask my opinion. 


I write romance, from first person POV and there is always a lot of dialogue. Since we as a society use adverbs a lot in our normal daily vernacular, they are necessary. I rarely go through a conversation without using the words loudly, quietly, perfectly, easily, quickly, slowly, softly, heavily, etc. The list goes on and on, and I’m sure we can all admit that these words, while maybe unnecessary, are used in A LOT of conversations. So that makes them necessary in writing.


The problem becomes when they’re OVER used. My process is to search for “LY” in my writing to scrutinize any use of an adverb. I ask myself if I'm using them too liberally, and if they're necessary. I read the sentence with and without them and ask which sounds more like something a real person would say. If they're necessary I leave them, if not, I lose them. Simple as that.


But also, what it helped me find in my writing is that a lot of times, I really believed I was showing, but I was actually telling. Adverbs only modify the verb by telling how, when, where, why, how much, or to what degree. They aren't as descriptive as we sometimes think they are. And sometimes, I had to add extra words to correct this oversight, but the overall result is a much more descriptive text, that reads stronger and draws the reader into the world more.


Here’s an example of what the “LY” search pointed out to me:

“She softly touched his face.”

WHICH COULD BE

“She brushed her hand down the side of his face.”


While it isn’t that different, you can envision the second version in your head more, right? It’s easier to imagine what “she” is actually doing as opposed to me just describing how soft/firm her touch was. “Brushed” has an inherently soft connotation, so that verb doesn’t need the added adverb and by describing where she touched him, it livens the action up. (Side note, this is something else you can look for when doing your search, if it said "She softly brushed..." you could take out the softly because it's unnecessary).  


And, giving that amount of detail is nice, but here’s an even better version that could come out of doing this search.


WHAT IF IT WAS: 

“She brushed her fingertips down his rough stubble, and the sting was a welcome distraction from her heart pounding in her ears.”


Obviously, the third version is even wordier, but you get the point. These “ly” adverbs aren’t doing their job at least 60% of the time we use them. So while this search didn’t necessarily cut words from my manuscript, it did strengthen it by making me examine why I was using certain words, and if they were doing exactly what I wanted.


2. Don’t use said, asked, whispered, etc. when they aren’t necessary.


I actually had a conversation with a writer friend of mine about this topic this weekend, so I think this one may be a personal preference, but I feel strongly about it, so I want to mention it. 


I was reading a book, published by a huge named publisher, and the liberal use of the word “said” was over the top in my opinion. BY A LOT! You can take this suggestion with a grain of salt because it’s obviously just my opinion, BUT the above articles all mention the overuse of “said” and “asked,” so I know I’m not alone. And even if I wasn’t a writer, as a reader, I found the overuse of these words made me like the aforementioned big-named publisher’s book at least 20% less than if they weren’t there.


Here’s what I mean, read the following couple of examples and tell me which you think sounds cleaner:


Example A:

“Go get the bat,” Henry said, picking up the ball and tossing it in his glove.

OR

“Go get the bat,” Henry picked up the ball and tossed it in his glove.


Example B:

“What are you doing?” Stacey asked as she ran down to the lake to determine what Scotty was up to.

OR

“What are you doing?” Stacey ran down to the lake to determine what Scotty was up to.


They aren’t that different, and both give the reader an explanation of who is saying the dialogue, but one cuts out the extra words “said” and “asked” and leaves the reader more closely connected to the action of the characters. If you don’t have to read the “She said” then you can almost forget that you’re reading about these people and imagine you’re with them. 


Again, this can obviously be my opinion, and clearly “Said,” “Asked,” “Whispered,” etc can’t be completely cut out. BUT I cut at least 200 said’s alone out of my manuscript, and it loves me for the favor. That doesn’t even include “Asked,” “whispered,” etc. Basically, I’m saying, take a close look at them and make sure they’re necessary. While you might think you need them, you’ll find 90% of the time you don’t. And if you take them out, you’ll discover your manuscript reads smoother without them.


3. “That” and “Had” aren’t needed as often as you think they are


Ok, this may be another area we agree to disagree on, but, “had” and “that” are probably necessary only about 50% of the time you think they are. 


I learned this not only from the above articles but also from a writing group I’m a part of. “Love to Write” is run by Globe Soup, and I’ve posted about their free seven-day writing challenges before. But I’m telling you, this group has been invaluable to my growth as a writer, so you should definitely look them up on Facebook. And they have blog posts that have taught me so much about writing so here’s a link to that also Globe Soup Blog 


But I digress…


Anyway, the point I was making is that “That” and “Had” are often used erroneously. I had a debate about this with an editor friend of mine who looked at my work and often suggested “that”s or “had”s which felt unnecessary and I'd previously cut.


Here’s an example:

“He was the best dancer that I ever saw.”

SHOULD JUST BE

“He was the best dancer I ever saw.”


The “that” is unnecessary. So search for it and really examine whether or not it's needed. Like the "ly" words, I read the sentence with and without it, and if it made sense without it, out it went. I save SO MANY words taking out extra “that”s. I think it was like 1500-2500 words or something ridiculous.


Same with “Had.” Here’s an example:

“He had watched her dancing with rapt fascination.”

SHOULD BE

“He watched her dance with rapt fascination.”


It’s a simple adjustment, and nothing changes about the meaning of the sentence, but trust me, over time in your writing, it will bog the reader down, and removing the “had”s will help make your voice smoother.


4. Contractions are your friend.


In writing a college term paper, a professional email, or a report “I am” might be more appropriate. But in writing a novel, “I’m” serves the same purpose and makes your work sound smoother and more conversational. 


Here’s a list of contractions I found helpful so I could easily “ctrl+f” for words that weren’t contractions but should be. List of contractions (ESL.com)

(It’s not exhaustive, but it’ll give you a good start)  


I Had = I’d

I am = I’m

I will = I’ll


The list goes on and on. But simply searching for the un-contracted (I’m sure that’s not a word) version and changing it to the contraction saved me over 1000 words, and made my writing more conversational. Which, again, it’s a romance told from first person POV so even the exposition parts are meant to be conversational because it’s basically all inner dialogue. The point is, if it can be contracted, it probably should be, and if you don’t you should probably have a good reason why not.


5. Really and Very should be used sparingly


Ultimately, they’re going to be used, but if you don’t have to, don’t. Is there a better way to express what’s “Really” or “Very” about it?


“I really don’t want to go.”

COULD BE

“I don’t want to go.”


The “really” adds nothing to the equation, so take it out. If it feels necessary to express how much someone doesn't want to go, maybe make it more fun and descriptive by saying "I want to go to that about as much as I want to get a rectal exam..." :-)


Also, “very” isn’t that descriptive:


“It’s very big.”

COULD BE

“Its massive size outmatched the competition by more than two times.”   


Again, sometimes this adds words, but doesn’t the second version of the “very” give you a better idea of how very big “it” is? These are simple examples, but you get the point. Find those “Very”s and “Really”s and determine if they belong there and if the work would be better served by more descriptive language.


6. Just don’t “Just” if you don’t need to


“Just” is necessary, just not as often as you think you should. (See what I did there?). 

Just search for it, and make sure it's necessary and if not, just cut it out. I saved over 200 words just from just. Seriously, just don’t (haha) 😂😂


“He just wanted a nap.”

IS NO MORE IMPACTFUL THAN

“He wanted a nap.” 


So make sure you need the "just." That’s all I’m saying.


7. Figure out what your overused words are


Sometimes this is easier said than done, but here are some that I find I use a lot:


Nodded

Shrugged

Reached

Walked

Groaned

Moaned


The list could be endless. And there is nothing wrong with these words, it's just important to make sure you switch it up, because it weakens your writing when you use the same word over and over. So find ways to describe these actions.


Nodded = “Bobbed his head”

Shrugged = “Raised his shoulders”

Reached = “Slid his hand over”

Walked = “Made his way to”

Etc, etc, etc.


The point is, find other ways to say the same thing, and it will help your writing. 


Breath, breathed, exhaled, etc. are also all commonly used words and there are better ways to describe emotions. So do research and try to switch it up.


Ok, I’m not going to rehash everything that’s listed in the resources above, but you get the point. I think we as writers can often get into bad habits. And doing a search of a full manuscript to find these unnecessary words can often save you time as you move forward in your writing as well.


What I mean is, I spent almost a week cutting “That”s out of my first manuscript. And since then, I’ve been able to recognize while I’m writing them that they aren’t necessary. Not always, I still find extra “that”s, but not as many as I once did. Also, finding and recognizing your own overused words will help you moving forward.


Last thing... Aside from specific words as mentioned above, there may be ways to rewrite sentences that not only cut words but also tighten up the language so it’s easier to digest. These articles have a lot of examples so I won’t go into it too much, but basically, read EVERY SENTENCE THOROUGHLY. And if words don’t need to be there, take them out. And if a sentence with 10 words can be said the same way in 5 then do it.


Eliminating words” (Pardue)




Ultimately, this is something we all do. So take heart, my sweeties, even if you’re guilty of EVERY single writing blunder mentioned in this post, or my research’s posts (and trust me, I’m guilty of 98% of them), finding them and eliminating them will help you grow as a writer. It’s all part of the process. In the beginning, it can be exhausting, but trust me, it gets easier. The longer you write, the more easily you’ll identify these words and get rid of them.


So that’s it! That’s My Two Cents on Unnecessary, Erroneous, Extra, Filler Words. Find them and edit them out ruthlessly, because trust me, your work with thank you for it!


Have a great week my friends!



XOXO

-Rose Rayne Rivers


Do you have any invaluable resources to share? What are your overused words? Comment below and let me know!you Also, let me know if you have any topics you want me to cover in the upcoming weeks!


Don’t forget to edit that document ruthlessly with Don’t forget to and that document crossed out


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