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January 21, 2014

Words to Cut Out of Your Writing

In my recent post, How To Edit a Book, the second step says to “Cut it Out!” and refers to clichés and passive voice, but there are words you should cut out of your manuscript too.

Here is a list of words I have accumulated over time from editors:

·         That

"That" is a word editors always warn against. “That” sneaks into a lot of sentences, but it’s not always necessary. Most of the time, you can delete “that” and the sentence will still have the same meaning but it'll tighter.

Example: She swore that it would never happen again.

Better: She swore it would never happen again.

·      Just, Only, Really

These three words clutter sentences. Once you eliminate them your sentences will be more assertive, and will sound better. With my own writing though, I do keep them in my character’s dialogue because these are words that people say all the time, I just try to limit them as much as possible. See . . . there’s that “just”! lol

Example: She just didn’t know what to do.   

Better: She didn’t know what to do.

·       Almost, Slightly, Seemed 

When something is “almost” or “slightly” it is boring! And if something or someone “seems” like whatever, you’re telling your readers there is a chance that they aren’t. But why?

1.    Above the clouds, the sun was almost blinding. 
Better: Above the clouds, the sun was blinding.

2.    She was slightly mad. (Why not just make her mad?) 
Better: She was mad. (This is more thrilling!) 
3.    The world outside seemed quiet.                    
Better: The world outside was quiet. 
Image by Chrys Fey.

·      Perhaps, Maybe, Simply, Somehow

Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, says not to use modifiers, but to use clear, assertive statements to create more impact.

Example: She simply didn’t know what to do.

Better: She didn’t know what to do. (Do you see how much more assertive this sentence is? Taking out “simply” makes the sentence stronger.)

·       Absolutely, Basically, Actually

Once again, these three words clog sentences, and don’t provide extra meaning. If something is absolute, basic, or actual, you don’t have to add “absolutely”, “basically” or “actually”. Readers will get it; they’re smart. I will admit I use “actually” in dialogue, but I try not to overuse it.

Example: She was absolutely sure the killer had run into the woods.

Better: She was sure the killer had run into the woods. (See? This is just as absolute without “absolutely”.

·       Instead

Here is a word that I will admit, made me scratch my head when I heard writers shouldn’t use it, but when editors tell you to cut it out, you cut it out as much as possible! I’m sure I still have “instead” somewhere in my manuscripts, but there is far less than there were.

·      Now

If you are talking about the past and present it is okay to use the word “now”, but I’ve noticed in my writing that I used the word “now” often and it was unnecessary.

Example: Now stop it!

Better: Stop it!

TIP: If “now” is at the beginning of a sentence, no comma comes after it.

Avoid these phrases too:
·         sort of
·         kind of
·         a little
When describing something, readers don’t want “sort of” or “kind of”. They want to be sure! And they don’t want “a little”. They want it all.

Example: Her cut sort of hurt.

Better: Her cut hurt.

QUESTION: Are there any words you have learned to eliminate from your writing? Please share in case I have to cut them from my writing too! ;)


Yolanda Renée said...

What a great list, and one I know most all editors have to flag. Taking your list to my work now! UGH! LOL

Suzanne Furness said...

Some great advice, I find 'now' is often the one that slips in with me!

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, Yolanda! Trust me, when I first found out editors don't like these words I had to go back to all of my manuscripts. Oh, it took a while. But using the "find" tool in Microsoft helps. Good luck! ;)

Chrys Fey said...

"That" is the hardest one for me to omit when I'm writing, but when I am editing I can spot every "that" and I quickly delete. ;)

Unknown said...

I love this list, Chrys! The one word I continuously find myself overusing is "that." Sad, I now=( I hope you can't tell by my writing because I work hard trying to edit THAT out of most of it. Like yourself, I too, was surprised at "instead." I love instead=)

Unknown said...

Great tips, Chrys! I know I'm guilty of several of these, and it takes some editing to get me to behave. :)

Unknown said...

Good list! I was recently editing a manuscript and realized that I use "very" a lot. I'm trying to be more mindful of it now.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Chrys.

I learned that list right at the beginning of my writing career. My first MS was LOADED with them. I rarely use them, if ever. But "Really" is a hard word to cut, especially when one writes M/G or Y/A... I only use it in dialogue... because ... EVERY TEEN USES IT... lol.

Chrys Fey said...

Gina, we are in the same boat! "That" sneaks into my writing too. But honestly, I don't notice them in your writing. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, E.J.! It does take editing, and practice, and patience. lol

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks for reminding me, Quanie! I talked about "very" in another post. I'll add the link to this post.

When I first learned about these words, I cringed at how often I used "just" and "only". Oh it was bad. LOL!

Chrys Fey said...

Teenagers LOVE the word "really"! But for M/G or Y/A dialogue I think you get a pass. ;)

Anonymous said...

Great list, Chrys. Thanks for sharing.

Lisa Thomson said...

This is a great list. I just went back to my blog I posted today and checked it. Took out 'a little' and 'very' LOL. I agree in writing dialogue it's okay to use some of these because we definitely speak that way. Also, if we don't use any of these words our writing can sound robotic...just thinking out loud.

Chrys Fey said...

You're welcome. Deborah. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Writing a blog post is a bit different from writing a story, because we are writing our thoughts, which means we may be more inclined to add in these words. Like you said, we use them all the time when we speak. I'm sure my blog posts have several of the words on this list. lol

Kelly Hashway said...

For some reason, I have an intense dislike of the word "then" and I think it's because you rarely ever need it. Sentences are better without it in most cases.

Chrys Fey said...

I have to admit . . . "then" does pop up in my writing, especially during action scenes. But, I've mentioned this in another blog post as well, I limit how often I use it.

Thank you for sharing, Kelly!

David T List said...

Of those, I was the most guilty of "now" and "seemed". I'm glad I'm not the only one who needed to be told this!

Chrys Fey said...

You're in great company, David! I started to compile this list a year ago. We are always learning. :)

Sherry Ellis said...

Great list. I'm guilty of using "that" too much!

Chrys Fey said...

Me too, Sherry, though I am getting better at it. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for the tips. I am probably the one "that" always uses "that" word. I now the see the difference it really makes. I will be more carful. Thanks for the tips.

Chrys Fey said...

You're welcome, Lady Lilith! It does make a noticeable difference. I hope my list helps you. :)

Arlee Bird said...

Some of my favorite words! There go my word counts.

Tossing It Out

Damaria Senne said...

Ouch! You mention a number of words I need to take out :-)

Chrys Fey said...

Haha. When I took these words out of my manuscripts my word count did drop a bit, but the overall impact is worth it. :)

Chrys Fey said...

I'm sorry, Damaria. But it is worth it.

Crystal Collier said...

Holy cow, woman! I think you got them all. I've been parrying down my writing to make it more assertive for years, and I'm right there with all of these. Two words that indicate passive language I watch for as well, "Were, was." Just about any time one of those appears, the action is taking a back seat in favor of telling.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent list! I need to print it out and run searches on them all. I am a huge offender of using them way too often!

Chrys Fey said...

I spent hours searching all of my works-in-progress for these words when I first found out about them. Put on good music and have some chocolate on hand. ;)

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, Crystal! Knowing I got them all according to you makes me feel like a winner! ;) I also watch out for "were, was", and make sure to fix them so it's no longer passive.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for editing down those padding words, but...

"He was happily married to others" means he was married to several other people. Even if you precede it with "Although he was inwardly unhappy," it is poor construction.

If you want to cut out "he seemed" (and I see no reason to besides pedantry, there is a meaningful distinction between a thing and the appearance of that thing), you would leave it as "To others, he was happily married" or "he was happily married, to others," with the comma separating two clauses, so that "married" cannot be taken as a past participle.

Everything else checks out =)

Chrys Fey said...

That was just an example I created to show how you can cut "seemed" out of a sentence. Maybe not the best example. The comma should've been there, but as we all know...writers can make boo-boos.