The English language is superfluous. I was going to add an adverb to superfluous when I wrote that sentence, too, maybe for comedic effect, but in reality, it's just better to say it simply. If any of you know or have studied another language, you'll know that English comparatively is a mouthful for no reason.
When I started studying Japanese, people always asked: it's gotta be so hard, right!? My answer? Not really.
Why? Because Japanese skips out on so many unnecessary words and relies on the context of conversation to fill in the blanks.
Language doesn't need to be wordy. We can get what you're trying to say in less words. And I'm always preaching on this blog: less is more. Use less words, and let your readers fill in the blanks. Doing so sets off neurons in the brain, engaging the reader, weaving their own words (or at least the contextuality of it) with yours. Your readers are smart! You don't have to hand hold.
I've put together an assortment of words that you should consider removing from your manuscript. It will make your prose more powerful, more direct, and more confident. You've got nothing to prove by writing flowery prose. The real strength is in the concept.
Without further ado, here are some words to watch out for:
Dragging Feet Along
Words like completely, absolutely, definitely, perfectly, totally, and completely get in the way of your sentence. They don't introduce any new information. Remove them, and I bet that your sentence will still make sense. In fact, I'd imagine that you're sentence will sound stronger out loud.
She was absolutely sure that the armor fit her perfectly.
She was sure that the armor fit her.
Clean and concise thoughts have more conviction than adverbs (most of the time). Adverbs, adjectives that modify verbs, aren't true descriptors. If applicable, use descriptive verbs, metaphors, or similes instead.
Other words that depict the beginning of something are also unnecessary. Using start or begin stagger the pace and the action.
She started to walk towards me with the sword in her hand.
She walked towards me with the sword in her hand.
The second sentence is less passive, therefore driving the sense of urgency up a notch. Also, she has a sword, so now we really need to get ready to run away.
Removing Readers From The Mind of the Narrator
Narrators are the link to the minds of the characters. Using words like wonder, think, feel, understand, or realize make that concept sort of redundant and takes your reader out of the magic of narrative fiction.
I wonder what he will think or do when I give him his present
He will do a cartwheel out of the window and land on his feet when I give him his present
Will he do that when she presents the gift? Probably not, but it's nice to wonder, right? Using phrases like the first sentence is a missed opportunity for imagination and subtle character development. Yes, we know that's not what's likely to happen, but we expect excitement. Now, what if he wasn't excited? Or worse, what if he did cartwheel out of the window?
Dialogue tags slow your pacing and distract readers from the conversation. Try not to use them after every line of dialogue. Typically, your reader can keep up in the conversation and/or through the action itself. We don't need the narrator to tell us every time who it is that is saying what's being said.
Being Too Specific
Nominalization, numeration, and approximation can take away the quality of your action or scene. It's not often about how much.
About and almost are culprits of this. Try to avoid using them.
We're about to finish up the match.
We're finishing up the match.
At all costs or at all times are other phrases to avoid.
Try to avoid using them at all costs.
Try to avoid using them.
See what I did there?
Numbers, like telling us it was ten yards away or that there were twenty-six people in the room, are unnatural. They don't occur naturally in conversation, and the same goes for in narrative. Unless there's a specific number that pertains to telling an important part of the story (we need seventeen thousand dollars for this to work; there will be five of us at the meeting after all), then there are more natural ways to measure distance or quantities.
It's only thirty five minutes away.
It's not far, you'll be there before the sun sets.
Something I caution writers when I stumble upon words like this frequently in a manuscript is that they're showing a lack of self-confidence. These additive words are subconscious ways we try to compensate our writing. Whether it's fear that our prose isn't flowery, or that our scene isn't strong, or that our story is weak, we have to write with conviction. Instead of saying that "I'm probably a good writer," say that "I am a good writer." Even if your entire being doesn't believe it, there's part of you that does. There's power in writing (and saying) things with conviction. Power isn't absolute, but it's there, and we should use it in our writing to create concise, impactful prose.
Kyle V. Hiller is a freelance editor and an independent published author. Check out his novels or inquire about his editing services. If you're just hanging out, subscribe to the newsletter below, and you'll get posts like this delivered straight to your inbox! Stalk Kyle on Twitter and Instagram, too.