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Cutting the clutter.
Annah Johnson
Posted: Friday, July 6, 2012 6:01 PM
Joined: 6/29/2012
Posts: 9

Revision is more than cutting scenes, rearranging paragraphs, and adding plot points. It's also about the little tweeks and cuts of words that add no meaning to the prose.

Do you have specific words that you come across regularly on your revisions? Do you have a list of words that you cut from all your writing?

In one of my revisions I found 107 counts of 'just' in the first 20 pages. It is a 'no-no' word, or a use-at-your-own-risk word. I found that cutting most of the 'just' in those first 20 pages didn't effect the story one bit. It only improved the prose. I didn't cut all of them, maybe I will in my next revision.

Here is my list of words to watch for:
Just, so, such, very, really, even, at all, certainly, definitely, exactly, anyway, some.

I also look for words that end in -ly. Sure adverbs are fun, a few are necessary, but they can be replaced using the correct verb to get your point across.

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Saturday, July 7, 2012 10:29 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

I call those "crutch words", the words that end up littering your work and you don't necessarily notice it. I had a friend once who used to use the word "lush" all the time to describe things. She never even noticed she did it until her editor pointed it out to her. =)

GD Deckard
Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012 10:49 AM

In one section my characters were "nodding" like bobble heads. Ack!

I regularly have to search & destroy "was, were, that, had & had been." Using present tense often works better. Some of these can be replaced with more specific words, i.e., replace "was sad" with "felt sad." Most can be eliminated, especially when they refer back to something already stated.

Often, my feeble attempt at editing succeeds & I enjoy the result. Occasionally though, the question arises, "Is all this editing keeping me from writing?"
How much self-editing is enough?

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012 4:25 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

"There" when it's not defining a place.  All constructions that begin "There is/was [something] that [did something].   Modifiers of all types--the adverbs ending in "ly" are easy to spot, but not the only offenders.

Faux-active constructions: take a hard look at infinitives, gerunds, progressive tenses, and anything introduced with "started to..."   Occasionally, you need to specify "He started to (or was beginning to) eat/drink/get up..." but "He ate/drank/got up..." is stronger.  

That being said, the linking verbs are not evil and trying too hard to avoid them can lead to labored constructions.   Great literature includes many examples of good writing that breaks every rule mentioned here. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in posession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" would be shot down in any contemporary critique group.  But Pride and Prejudice is a good story that's entertained many thousands of readers, and it's not harmed a bit by starting with "It is..."

We edit to make the story a better experience for the reader.  If it's already an excellent experience for the reader--that's it. Stop.  Kristine Rusch (on her blog "The Business Rusch")  has a good post on Perfection--why it's not obtainable and when to stop faffing with the story.  Look at  the whole picture--the whole story--and don't get hung up forever on whether you have one too many passive constructions.   Make sure the structure works--make sure the characters are interesting and "alive"--clean it up a bit and tighten it--maybe twice--and then send it away.   (Though--if you've had a note from an editor saying "I only have room for one more story--1500 words" and your story is 2300...cut it to 1500 words.  Slash and burn, but get there.  My first sale was done exactly that way.  All the fat first, and then...the left hind leg subplot and all that was with it.)

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012 9:50 PM

Filter words are my downfall, those words that, if we’re not careful, can only come from the author and thus take us out of the character’s POV (Janet Burroway may have coined the term). If I turn my back for one second the damn things grow like weeds:

See, hear, think, touch, wonder, realize, watch, look, seem, feel
can, decide, sound, know, find. To that I add “was” as in, “he was…”

For examples on how they distance the reader can be found in Suzannah Windsor Freeman’s blog, here:


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