Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Eliminate Unnecessary Words by Diana Flegal


One of my favorite writing workshops I teach is one called, Write Tight. We have talked about this subject more than once on our blog but it bears repeating. Before sending your manuscript out to an agent or editor, eliminate all unnecessary words.
A few words I ask my clients and workshop participants to watch out for are:
Just, then, that, feel/feeling/felt, it, there, knew/know, maybe, see/saw, hear/heard, could, look, ly adverbs, maybe, was/were.
Finding and cutting these words will tighten your manuscript and improve its pace.
 In a word document use your search tool. It is the one resembling binoculars. Open your document, then click on the icon, and a search window will pop open. Type in the word, just. See how many times it pops up throughout your manuscript. Or type in ly, to spot all of the ly words you have used.
Superfluous, unnecessary, and redundant words add up to verbal flab. /// Andy Scheer 
The success of a book is measured by the satisfaction of its reader. /// Sol Stein



Most people can write, but only writers can rewrite. /// Anonymous

Rule 17 in The Elements of Style by E. B. White/// Omit needless words.


Let's all tighten our verbal flab in 2015.







16 comments:

Vie said...

Excellent post, Diana. When I'm editing, I do the search as you noted, but I also replace with the key word highlighted. Then as I am going through the manuscript, all those weed words are tagged. When I'm finished, I "select all" and then click on "highlight/no color," to get rid of the color. (Or, the highlight can be removed as I deal with each word in the go-through.)

I want to also take a minute to tell you how much I appreciate and learn from the blog posts you and the others at Hartline share.

Linda Glaz said...

OH, yes. I just love the word just and just use it waaay too often, but I just can't help myself!

Tom Threadgill said...

"Just." My nemesis. I try to catch it when I'm writing and am always surprised how many times I still find it when I go back and edit.

Diana Flegal said...

Vie, I am glad these posts are a help to you. Thank you for sharing your way of doing this. I like the word 'weeds'. Perfect word. :-)

And just so we are clear, it just burns me when I, well I just can't take it, oh booger. just leave the word just out of things please!

Karen Nolan Bell said...

I was surprised to find that my biggest offender is the word "like." I discovered it by accident when I decided to change a character's name from "Ike" to another name. My find highlighted the "ike" part of like. A lot.

Terry Burns said...

Most of us have words that we over-use causing them to begin to "echo." One of my big offenders that I have to watch out for is the word "that." See, I just did it.

Terry Burns said...

I was just working on a YA mss. When the word "OK" is used most publishers prefer that it be "okay." I started marking them for her snd soon became aware that there were literally hundreds of them. OK, so kids actually use the word a lot, it still doesn't work well when we try to reflect that in writing. OK, I just did it myself again.

Diana Flegal said...

Exactly Terry. Repetition annoys and insults the reader, and no author wants to do that. If they would read their writing out loud, they most likely would see that.

Caroline said...

Well said, Diana! Raising hand for guilt, but w/my multiple word list of unnecessary words (weeds! ;) ) --helps a lot to write tighter. Good post.

Caroline said...

Well said, Diana! Raising hand for guilt, but w/my multiple word list of unnecessary words (weeds! ;) ) --helps a lot to write tighter. Good post.

Anna Read said...

I definitely need to do this when I finish my ms! Great post.

I just had a question: what if the the "just" (for example) gives you the extra beat you need to get the rhythm "just" right (haha)? Some of my sentences sound awkward without the filler words you mention here. Does that mean they need to be re-written to work without the unnecessary word?

Maybe this is a stupid question, but I'm kinda new at this! Thanks!

pattisjarrett said...

Wouldn't it be nice if we could rid ourselves of all flab so easily.

Melissa Jagears said...

I have a huge extensive list of weasel words that I share on my website that seems to be very helpful to writers, especially the tutorial on how to write a macro in word to highlight all of these words for you with one click.
Weasel Word List It also explains the difference between why "just" and "knew" should be watched out for. One can usually simply be eliminated, the other indicates a deep POV problem, etc.

Melissa Jagears said...

Anna Read, in my opinion, when you're going through your WIP, try to eliminate those words if it doesn't change the meaning of the sentence. THEN when you read through it again later, if you notice that it just NEEDS that "just" in there to sound right because you stumble over reading that sentence without it, then re-add it, but I find that time away from that sentence will often show that you didn't need it after all. :)

Diana Flegal said...

Melissa thank you- weasels is another great word for unnecessary words. Thank you for sharing the link to this list. I will add that to my workshop handout.

Anna, Melissa said just what I would say. Most are not nec. but once in a while it will be 'just' the right word. But the biggest thing is not to rely on these weeds and weasels. They are often an indicator of a lazy writer. There might be a better way to say what you are attempting to say.

Dr. Ryan Fraser said...

Guilty as charged! Thanks so much for writing this helpful post. This is something I struggle with. Weeds are such a nuisance!