I’m getting close to finishing up on my first round of edits, which were mainly grammar and stylistic things. Based on comments from my editor, the workshop I took back in July, and my own read throughs, I came up with a list of words that I know I need to try to avoid/diminish.
I think a lot of these are words many beginning (and sometimes not even beginning) writers simply don’t think about. If you’re anything like me, the first draft is all about getting the story down–not finding the perfect word. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I go back and cringe at some of the things I wrote as I revise or edit.
A lot of cringes have to do with overused words or repetition of words that don’t really add anything to the sentence. (For example, that ‘really’ could be deleted with no harm to the sentence).
I break my list into Quick, Medium, and Many. Quick are words I don’t use too-too often but really need to be looked at. Medium are words that I use a moderate amount, and many well… you get the picture. I break it up that way so if I only have ten minutes to go through something, I do one of the quick words. If I’m in it for an hour or two, I can tackle the medium/many ones.
Keep in mind I rarely get rid of every instance of each of these words. Some you can’t, but I try to make sure each use is one hundred percent necessary and helps the meaning of the text.
Today, I’m going to share with you my “quick” words. I’ll be back tomorrow with the medium/many words.
cause(d): example: “This caused her to pause” Too wordy. Just say, she paused. Same effect and much clearer.
knew, saw: This is something I didn’t realize I sometimes did until my editor pointed it out. Sometimes you do need knew/saw, but if you’re saying your character knew/saw you’re usually taking us out of that character’s POV. For example, “Tom knew the sky was blue.”We’re in Tom’s POV, we don’t need the “knew.” It can just be, the sky was blue. This reminds me of when I used to teach. I always told my students in a paper that “I think” or “I believe” is unnecessary. Since you’re the writer, we know this is what you think or believe. Just say it. Same concept.
possibly: example: “I was possibly out of line.” The possibly adds nothing to the sentence unless the speaker is trying to hedge taking responsibility. “I was out of line.” Means about the exact same thing.
beginning/began: I notice I had this problem as I was going through these edits. “She began to get her things.” “He was beginning to think.” It’s so much clearer if you just take it out and said “She got her things.” “He thought.” The beginning/began to adds nothing.
merely: I couldn’t believe how many times I used merely in this book. I edited it out so many times the word didn’t even make sense anymore. For this book, merely should have been in the many category, but usually it’s a quick go through. Merely adds next to nothing most of the time. Especially if you’re like me and write something like. “Joe merely smiled. ‘You’re right,’ he said.” Um, if he “merely” smiled, then he shouldn’t speak.
practically/probably/immediately/exactly: All of these are mainly just filler words. “He practically skipped.” Either he did or he didn’t. “I wasn’t exactly sure.” Might as well say I wasn’t sure. They rarely add anything important, and usually the sentence works just as well without the word. If you can take out a word without affecting the meaning, you don’t need that word.