Hey SE Readers. Joan with you today. I’m going to preface this post by saying I’ve probably made every mistake I mention and then some.
I tend to read with a more critical eye these days. It isn’t intentional, but as a learn more about the craft of writing, I pick up on things in other author’s works. Too bad I’m not good at finding these pesky things in my own writing, but I’m thankful for my critique partners who do.
As writers, we want to draw our readers into the story. Useless words, passive phrases, and what I call crutch words or phrases can distract them.
Before we send anything to beta readers, editors, or critique partners, there are a few simple steps we can take to tighten our writing and eliminate unnecessary words.
Look for “crutch” words or phrases
Crutch words or phrases will differ with every writer. Reading through your finished manuscript will enable you to become familiar with your own. As you review, look for repeated words or phrases. A few of these are well, perhaps, and so.
While there’s nothing wrong with any of them, overuse can slow your story down and jar the reader’s attention. Many authors begin a lot of sentences with the words well or so. (Guilty as charged!)
Well, we planned to go out for dinner and a movie, but we had to cancel.
Instead, write it this way:
We planned to go out to dinner and a movie, but we had to cancel.
Eliminating the word “well” didn’t change the meaning. The second sentence also sounds better.
Here’s another example:
So, what’s the next step? Do we…
What’s the next step? Do we…
It’s important to note people often talk this way. They begin sentences with “well” or “so.” It’s perfectly fine to use those words in dialogue but be careful not to overdo it. I recently read a short story where the author used the word “so” numerous times. After a while, it became distracting.
Another thing to avoid is crutch phrases. I seem to have a different one with each new book. After writing my first novel, I swore I would not use the phrase, “in spite of.” With another novel, I became aware I used the term “quick glance” throughout the book. Redundant much? A glance is quick.
Look for “red flag” words or phrases
We’re all familiar with passive vs. active voice. Using active voice is always best. Words such as here, there, of, was, were, will be, to be, thought, felt, heard, saw, smelled are often a key to the use of passive voice. They can also be a sign of telling versus showing.
Here are some examples of passive voice:
Instructions are always given by the teacher.
Yellowstone National Park is visited by thousands of tourists every year.
A special recognition program for the town’s first responders is being hosted by the City Council.
Now let’s look at them in active voice:
The teacher always gives instructions.
Thousands of tourists visit Yellowstone National Park every year.
The City Council is hosting a special recognition program for the town’s first responders.
It’s important to note it takes more words to show than tell, but your prose will sound so much better.
Brian was angry.
Brian stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him.
In the second example, we “see” Brian was angry without being told.
Look for “dead” and overused words
Words such as that, just, and very, are dead words. Most of the time you can eliminate them and not change the meaning of your sentence.
This is the most fun that I’ve had in a long time.
This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
The word “that” isn’t needed.
Here’s another example from a book I recently read:
Yet Eliza could not quell the feeling that it was not her clothes that Mrs. Pollard was examining.
Both instances of “that” could be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.
I often have a hard time removing the word “just.” But consider what you’re trying to say.
Michael just left.
How long ago did Michael leave? Five, ten, fifteen minutes, an hour? Instead write:
Michael left ten minutes ago.
Again, people often use the word “just” when speaking. Using it in dialogue is okay, but still don’t overdo it.
Using strong verbs is better than adverbs.
I had a very hard time adjusting to my new schedule.
I had a difficult time adjusting to my new schedule.
These are only a few examples. What are some words/phrases you often see used too often? Please share in the comments.