Ten weakest words to eliminate from your manuscript…like, RIGHT NOW!
Words can strengthen or weaken your writing. I’ve been making some pretty big mistakes as a writer, and I’m going to share one with you now. Using unnecessary words that can be cut.
Every writer starts off as a novice. We’ve ALL been there. I still consider myself a novice even though I’ve been writing religiously for almost five years, even though I have independently published books. Maybe I’ll always feel this way because I’m continuously growing. My writing improves daily. With each book I publish, I see growth.
It took several years to realize I’ve been making a super common mistake: I’ve been using unnecessary filler words that weaken my writing. I use these words because it FEELS like they make my writing better, more fluid, more transitional. Instead, I’ve been damaging my work. Oops!
If you go back through some of my earlier work, even my published works, you’ll find my manuscript littered with these words. Now that I’ve made the realization, I can go back and update my work to make it stronger. Using these words can be habit forming. I still catch myself throwing them in. Fortunately, that’s what line editing is for. Yippee! It’s okay to put them in during your draft stages if you feel as though it helps you write more quickly, and form your thoughts more coherently. Make sure that when you edit, you eliminate them if they aren’t absolutely necessary.
Let’s dive in. Here is my take on the fourteen weakest words—words that should be eliminated immediately if possible.
Example: There was a sound from the shadows. Then a person emerged.
I’m guilty of overusing then. It’s used as a common “transition” word. The thing is: we all know how events happen, one after another. And then…and then…and then…and then. You could start every sentence with then if you think about it. But everyone knows how time flows. Everyone knows that one event follows another. That’s just the natural order of things. The natural order of life.
Revised example: There was a sound from the shadows. A person emerged.
By cutting then, I have made my sentence stronger. Not only that, the meaning hasn’t changed at all! If anything, it’s more powerful.
When you can remove the word without changing the overall meaning of the sentence—cut it!
Example: I heard meowing again. I raced out onto my front porch, determined to catch my tormentor this time. I was too late. Somehow the cat had already raced across the street.
The use of somehow generally implies a lack of knowledge. Somehow that happened. Somehow—but we don’t know how. Use this word when the character cannot explain what is happening. For mundane things, get rid of it.
Revised example: I heard meowing again. I raced out onto my front porch, determined to catch my tormentor this time. I was too late. The cat had already raced across the street.
See how I was able to eliminate somehow without it changing the meaning? The cat runs across the street. We all know how cats run—fast and nimble. There’s no somehow about it. There are times the use of somehow is okay.
Example: I watched Caden’s figure in the reflection, stalking toward me. My breathing hitched. I took a deep breath and turned around to face him. He was gone—nowhere to be seen. Somehow he had disappeared.
Somehow makes sense here. The character has no idea how Caden disappeared. This is a somehow circumstance. Somehow, because we don’t know how.
Example: Blood dripped from the cracks in the ceiling. It made a pitter-patter sound with each drop. Someone moved around on the floor above me. I wasn’t alone. That left me very scared.
We all have the tendency to use very as a way of emphasizing something. It might feel like using very will make something more than it is.
Revised example: Blood dripped from the cracks in the ceiling. It made a pitter-patter sound with each drop. Someone moved around on the floor above me. I wasn’t alone. That left me terrified.
If you want to emphasize a certain emotion, rather than adding very try increasing the intensity of the emotion. Don’t use very scared, use terrified. There are times when very is appropriate, but make sure you ask your self if you can live without it first. I’ve been very guilty of overusing this word.
Example: I looked into my refrigerator. Empty. I definitely needed to go to the store if I planed to eat something.
The word definitely is a lot like the word literally. It gets used to emphasize something. When we use literally, we want someone to take especial notice to what we are saying. We hope that adding emphasis will grab more attention. There are times when definitely is appropriate and times that it isn’t. See if you can get rid of it. Most often, you’ll find that you can live without it.
Revised example: I looked into my refrigerator. Empty. I needed to go to the store if I planed to eat something.
Short and sweet is better. Definitely was unnecessary here. I definitely overuse definitely regularly because I feel like it’s definitely going to drive my point home. See? It’s like crying wolf. It looses its punch when you use it more than once.
Example: I watched as Tristan sauntered over to Tammy’s table. He’d fantasized about talking to her for months. Was he really going to do what it looked like? Did he finally have the courage for it?
Really is a lot like definitely and literally. It’s a weird emphasis word. Sometimes it’s not necessary. See if you can get rid of it. If your sentences carry the same meaning without it, it’s probably best to lose it.
Revised example: I watched as Tristan sauntered over to Tammy’s table. He’d fantasized about talking to her for months. Was he going to do what it looked like? Did he finally have the courage for it?
Example: My breathing hitched. I could see the shadow moving toward me. Closer. Too close. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be here anymore.
This damned word is the bane of my existence. I am afraid to open my first couple of manuscripts. I have a feeling I used suddenly at least once in every chapter, probably more. It’s completely unnecessary. We use it because we think it will increase the element of surprise. Most often it is over used. It can be okay if used sparingly, in real situations where there is a sudden disturbance that is unexpected. But see if you can remove it.
Revised example: My breathing hitched. I could see the shadow moving toward me. Closer. Too close. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be here anymore.
See? It reads about the same as before, just less words. Now I can save it to use for a truly special case where I want to genuinely emphasis surprise. It will pack more of a punch if used sparingly.
Example: This argument wasn’t going where I had hoped. My frustration started to grow. Every time I made my case, Jake pulled something out of thin air. There was no winning.
Using this word can feel like a subtle transition. Instead, it just makes my sentence weak. Sometimes it’s necessary. For example, “It started to rain.” See? That’s a proper use of started. Let’s look at my example after removing started and subbing in something more powerful.
Revised example: This argument wasn’t going where I had hoped. My frustration grew. Every time I made my case, Jake pulled something out of thin air. There was no winning.
By using a more definite action word, it feels more powerful—more certain. You want your writing to be assertive, not wishy-washy. Speak in “definites” without looking hesitant or timid. Timid writing is not confidence inspiring.
Example: His eyes darted back and forth. I couldn’t believe he was doing it again. Lying. For once, I just wanted him to be straight with me.