Edit Your Own Writing

Early on, I began a list of errors that I made in my writing. The list was composed of comments from my betas as well as from Cliché Cleaner. Cliché Cleaner is a great, inexpensive program that searches your writing for clichés as well as repeated words and phrases. I then took this list and created several macros that I could easily use to search my writing and highlight potential errors to help me revise. (More information on how to create a macro coming soon.) The following is a list of words that I frequently search for in my writing. Remember to do things in moderation. You don't need to eliminate all uses of these words in your fiction, but reduce them.

Unnecessary and Redundant Words

Redundant words get in the way of your prose and slows the reader down. Because they don't contribute any forward movement or essential information, you would be better off removing them whenever you can. If a verb implies an action, you don't need to state it.

began/started/start to: A character either does something or doesn't do something. Occasionally, it might be necessary for a character to "begin" an action if they will be interrupted or unable to complete the action. Also, if you interrupt a the character's speech, you don't need to use began or started as a dialogue tag. It's redundant, especially if you use a dash (—) or an ellipse (…). It is much better to write action that moves things forward.
♦  Jenny began to laugh laughed.
♦  Allison turned and started to stroll strolled toward the door.
♦  "Doug," Eric began said, "are you okay?"
♦  Better: "Doug!" Eric rushed toward the figure sprawled on the floor. "Are you okay?"

almost:Rarely needed.
♦  She was almost afraid to open her eyes.
back: If the character is doing one thing, and then does another back is understood.
♦  Laurie smiled as she gazed back at Steve.
continued:If a character hasn't stopped doing an action, there is no need to state that they continued doing something.
♦  Jennifer continued to stare stared at the unfamiliar guest.
instead:What didn't happen is usually made obvious because you have stated what did happen.
♦  He went to sit and landed on the floor instead of the chair.
of:"Of" in general is a weak word that should be eliminated. Especially "off of" and "of the." After would, could, or should it is always wrong.
♦  Many of the The cattle were branded.
then:If an action follows, then is implied.
♦  Lisa considered this and then smirked.
to the:Using this phrase often causes wordiness.
♦  The door to the office door is locked.
to be:Again, causes wordiness.
♦  He needs to be scrubbing to scrub the tub.
reaching:This is only redundant if you mix reach or reaching with another verb that can stand on its own. Using it alone is not the problem.
♦  Janelle reached out and patted her dog.
suddenly:Watch your use of this word. Often times it is used when the suddenness of the action is apparent.
♦  He suddenly came to an abrupt stop.
that:The use of that can and should be significantly reduced.
♦  The look that he saw on her face told him that he was forgiven.
You know:Consider this like you would uh or hum when used in dialogue and eliminate it whenever it is not used as part of the sentence.
♦  "You know, Nothing about this makes sense."


Directional words:

Up: He stood up.
Down: She sat down in the chair.
In: The clues all pointed in his direction.
Out: The cloth was spread out over the table.

Other words that are usually unnecessary and slow down prose:

anyway:She wanted to go anyway.
even: Lori wasn't even sure she needed it.
just: He just couldn't believe her eyes.
quite: He wasn't quite ready to face her.
rather: He was rather tired of all the lies.
really: She really should get out of bed.

Weak Words

Weak words come in several varieties and are generally words that don't add much to your writing. They are overused, colorless, or generic words that should be avoided whenever possible to a certain degree. Like all things, moderation is the key. I have divided the words into the following sections:

Dull, Drab Diluters

Seem/appear: Weakens and Dilutes. Use only when you want to create an image of doubt. Writing seamlessly gives your novel a trim, tailored look and creates action with greater impact. People don't want to read about things that seem to take place. Dare to be more direct and definitive in your style. Speak with authority.
Weak:        Harry’s presence seemed to dominate the camp.
Stronger:   Harry’s presence dominated the camp.
Weak:        Star seemed to be growing annoyed.
Stronger:   Star grew annoyed.

There: Should be removed when possible especially if it functions as a mere place filler for the more particular words that you have failed to provide.
Weak:        “If there are men that close, we’d better run.”
Stronger:  “If men are that close, we’d better run.”

There + “be” verb (is, are, was, were): Try to use “there was” and “there is” as little as possible because it can slow down your writing. Besides, it is not necessary to tell the reader that an action occurs or an object exists “there.” Instead of telling it, show it.
Weak:       There were grunts of disapproval from Bosley’s brothers.
Stronger:  Bosley’s brothers grunted in disapproval.
Weak:       There are five chicks huddled in the nest.
Stronger:  Five chicks huddled in the nest.

Thing, anything, nothing, something: These words, if you use them a lot, hint that you need to work harder on either your vocabulary or your willingness to use it. They functions as a mere place filler for the more particular words that you have failed to provide. They have no more substance that do air bubbles in a pie filling.

Filtering Words

“Filtering” is when you place a character between the detail you want to present and the reader. The term was started, I believe, by Janet Burroway in her book On Writing. Once you have established your point of view, you do not need to keep mentioning the character. The most common filtering words are: know, hear, notice, smell, saw, look, watch, taste, and any versions of these words. This is doubly true for any sentences that include these words and the word “could.” There is a very good article by Kate Gerard titled “Get your characters out of my way” that covers this topic in more depth. However, allow me to include a few examples of my own.
Filtering:   She could see him walking toward her.
Better: He walked toward her.
Filtering:   Bob noticed that the meat was rotten. He could it from across the room.
Better: The rotting smell of steak permeated the room.

Colorless Verbs

Colorless verbs are verbs that express action but don't express the “how.” A few examples of colorless verbs are stood, walked, sat, move, came, look, turned, cross, run, go, gone, went, leave and any forms of these words. Sure, sometimes you need to use them, but whenever possible it is best to replace them with a word that has meaning. Take “walk” for example. The word gives no indication about the character's emotion or the tone of the scene. However, by choosing another, more colorful verb, you add much more to your writing.


Example: Lisa walked through the room.

Now, here is the same sentence with various feelings:

Angry: Lisa marched through the room.
Sexy: Lisa sashayed through the room.
Happy: Lisa flittered through the room.
Irritable: Lisa prowled through the room.
Nervous: Lisa skittered through the room.
Injured: Lisa limped through the room.
Stunned: Lisa staggered through the room.


Modifiers, otherwise known as adverbs and adjectives, can be good when used judiciously. There are quite a few of them that have been overused and have become too generic to be effective. According to Strunk and White in The Elements of Style "these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words." Most writers will tell you to avoid adverbs at all cost. Basically, what they mean is don't use a verb and an adverb when you can replace them with a stronger verb. Also, chose your adjectives wisely. Don't let them trick you into being to generic in your descriptions.

Here is a small list of modifiers to avoid whenever possible:

absolutely a bit active actively actual a bit
active actively actual actually alleged a little
a lot any approximately arguably available bad
basically beautiful big both careful carefully
certain certainly cold comparative completely considerably
consistently constantly continually continuously decidedly deeply
definite effective eminent eminently especially eventually
exactly existing few finally fortunately generally
good great highly hot hopefully ideally
in fact in general in particular in the future in the past incredibly
indeed inherently inevitably ironically literally little
loudly madly meaningful mostly namely nearly
necessarily needless to say nice now over time overall
particular particularly per se practically pretty quickly
real really related relatively reportedly respectively
scary silly simply slightly slowly so
so-called softly some somehow somewhat soon
specific such themselves too total totally
truly unfortunately utterly very whatever wonderful

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