Adventures in Revising(1): Throwaway and Redundant words
I have a slightly obsessive personality. So when I get into something I do a lot of research and (over) analyze the heck out of it. So when I first began writing and revising, I went a little editing cuh-razy. However, something good came from it, I had a lot of thoughts about editing habits/revising. So, I decided to chronicle my adventures in revising.
(NOTE: a lot of this advice caters specifically to the YA genre. Adult and MG genres might allow more liberties in some of these areas, but I will try to point out where that could occur)
First up, Throwaway Words.
I read a lot of these posts and they’re always helpful, but as I read, it seemed like these “throwaway words” fell under two categories: Words you can search for in a document (Ctrl + F) and words that you need to find by reading with a fine-toothed comb.
WORDS YOU CAN CTRL + F
These are words that probably don’t add to the story. So my practice is to Ctrl + F for them when I revise, read each sentence and see if I can delete. 99% of the time, the answer is “yes.”
He wasn’t really hungry.
Getting rid of the “really” doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence and, in this case, the word “really” made the sentence less declarative.
– kind of
– a little (bit)
– had to/have to
Words that frame everything from the MCs POV – These words make you see actions and events as the MC sees them. That’s fine if it’s a paragraph that describes the MCs emotions, but if it’s just them observing an action, it can be cut to explaining that the action occurred. For example:
He could see the drops of rain falling fell on the pavement in fat splatters before the heavens opened in a torrential downpour.
(You can think of it as giving the reader first-hand information as opposed to second-hand. First-hand is always more reliable so let the readers experience it for themselves.)
He started to stand stood.
– nodded (her/his/my head)
– started to
– ran fast/quickly
– walked slowly
– whispered quietly
– yelled/shouted loudly
FINE-TOOTHED COMB EDITING
Now for the harder stuff. Things that are more subjective in your story and that you can’t just find with searching the document.
He was definitely angry at her.
He ran across the hard, black surface of the asphalt, his feet slapping against the ground as he sprinted.
(The only place where adjectives could be helpful is in description of a new character. Calling someone tall, fat, hairy, thin is fine if it is to give the reader a clearer picture of the person. But I encourage you to find a more creative way to describe characters. Instead of saying “the fat man” you can try “he was so plump and soft that she imagined he was made of Pillsbury dough instead of flesh and bone.”)
First words of sentences: Do all of your sentences start with “He” “She” “NAME OF CHARACTER” or “I”? Don’t worry, we all do it sometimes. We get caught up in describing the action of a character, and we end up just starting each sentence with the subject. If you find yourself doing this in some sections, just think of more dynamic ways to order some of your sentences. For example:
Eli carefully unhooked the guard’s key ring from his belt, he didn’t want to jar the sleeping belua. Eli stepped over the sleeping guard and moved to the heavy doors. He studied the entrance, it led to a dark staircase, illuminated only by a torch at the top landing. Eli took it from the sconce and held it high to light the way. Eli hesitated as a shiver raced down his spine, this place gave him the creeps. He’d heard one too many stories about the terror of the Under. But he pushed his anxiety away as he resolutely made his way down the steps.
Eli carefully unhooked the guard’s key ring from his belt,Carefully unhooking the guard’s key ring Eli clenched his teeth in concentration, he didn’t want to jar the sleeping belua. Eli stepped over the sleeping guard and With the keys secured, he moved to the heavy doors. He studied the entrance, The entrance led to a dark staircase, illuminated only by a torch at the top landing. Eli took it from the sconce and held it high to light the way. Eli hesitated as A shiver raced down his spine, this place gave him the creeps. He’d heard one too many stories about the terror of the Under. But he pushed his anxiety away as he resolutely made his way down the steps. (The Astrum Wars)
Now the paragraph sounds much more dynamic, changing a few words around to make it seem less repetitive makes the narration flow much better. (If you’re having problems identifying these types of problem passages, try reading the story aloud to yourself, it really highlights the words that show up too often or that sound awkward)
NOTE: When doing line edits, make sure you’re also looking at word choice and if your narration flows the way you intended. The advice in this post is useless if your story does not emit the mood and atmosphere that you intend as a writer. If deleting any of these words could take away from that mood, then utilize your artistic license and keep them in. It’s your novel after all, it should be written how you intended it. Happy Revising!