Random Writing Tip – Remove Unnecessary Words

I once read a tip online that said to replace the word damn for the word very in your writing and see what happens. For me what happened was a lot of deleting. When writing a rough draft I think most of us throw in words we don’t need.

Sometimes it’s because we mean to add emphasis, to make our writing more powerful. I’m guilty of throwing in the words very, extremely, overly, etc. Occasional use of adverbs isn’t bad, but constant use drags out sentences and readers will get bored.

I have some other go-to words when writing that I have to go back and delete: that, had, just

An example:

I had gone to the store yesterday.

A better way to say it:

I went to the store yesterday.

If you say each of those sentences out loud, you can hear how much smoother the second one flows.

Sometimes I’ve used them all together, then I want to slap myself. For example:

It was the man who had just robbed the bank.

Horrible right? If I wrote that in a rough draft, during revisions I would change it to:

It was the man who robbed the bank.

Or some other variation. When I start revising, I do a search for these words. Most of the time, deleting the words don’t make your sentences lose anything. It simplifies and makes the whole story easier to read.

On the subject of just, I have a specific suggestion. Don’t use it. If it’s in dialogue you can get away with it if you don’t use it too often. I try not to use it at all.

A good way to practice kicking these words out of your stories is to write very short flash fiction. If you have a 100-300 word limit, every word will count. You’ll learn to be more concise and you’ll see the extra words aren’t needed to make the story complete.

Happy writing!

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18 comments

  1. I’ve gotten away from “that” – fortunately. But “just” is the one I’m guilty of. I’ve been working on deleting it, unless it’s in dialogue. Because you’re right, normally, those extra words aren’t necessary and when I’m proofreading, I know that if they annoy me, they’ll annoy my reader as well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve only enriched other people’s list and altered one that I found once online. It works, but obviously one has to adjust it to their tastes, so to speak 🙂 Here’s mine.

        Sub UselessWords()
        Dim range As range
        Dim i As Long
        Dim TargetList

        TargetList = Array(“very”, “that”, “just”, “even”, “There was”, “there was”, “there were”, “There were”, “actually”, “practically”, “literally”, “suddenly”, “really”, “again”, “Again”) ‘ put list of terms to find here

        For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList)

        Set range = ActiveDocument.range

        With range.Find
        .Text = TargetList(i)
        .Format = True
        .MatchCase = True
        .MatchWholeWord = True
        .MatchWildcards = False
        .MatchSoundsLike = False
        .MatchAllWordForms = False

        Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
        range.HighlightColorIndex = wdViolet
        Loop
        End With
        Next
        End Sub

        (You may need to remove the phrase “put list of terms to find here”. It works for me, but if you have any problems with it, I’d remove it. It’s there to explain, I think)
        Also, where wdViolet, you can use whatever colour you want, but I think it only works with the ones available with the HIGHLIGHT option (in MS office 2003 which I insist on using, it’s the icon with the highlighter).

        Hope it helps.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Kristi, thanks for a perfectly timed tip. I tend to use a lot of adverbs too. I should probably do more flash fiction in 100 – 300 words. Maybe that should be my challenge to myself over the next few weeks. One flash fiction per week.

    Still, I finally figured out why I use these adverbs; and it’s helped me remove them (not as fast as I’d like but I’m getting there). When I write a first draft I want to complete the story; so I write it as it comes. Meaning that sometimes I don’t use the most accurate word. Maybe also English being my second language, the precise term doesn’t come to me right away. When I edit, I see these and find the proper verb, noun…

    I find that figuring out why you do something is usually a first step to explain/share it if it’s a good habit or to remove/stop doing it if it isn’t.

    I’ve never used macros, so I’ll take a look at it. That’s great advice too. Thanks Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

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