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Bob Nailor




Useless Words

He got a feeling that just started to gnaw inside his gut and he suddenly thought to himself, "Something's very wrong!"

Some writers may feel the above sentence is adequate or at least okay. WRONG! The sentence, as written, has several superfluous words. Yes, useless words that actually detract from the quality of writing. Try this instead:

He got a feeling which gnawed inside his gut and he thought,"Something's wrong!"

I deleted the following: just, that, started to, suddenly, to himself, very.

Many new writers will use the word "just" to convey a timeline or denote a form of immediacy. "Just" is not a time descriptor although it is heavily used as such. It is an adverb and the dictionary says it can be used to denote time, but too many writers use it too often and it seems to cheapen the sentence In the above example, "just started" seems overkill and therefore, superfluous. Using "just" is an easy-out.

I've stated repeatedly about using "that" or rather, removing it from your sentences. See my writing tip That•As•Ing•Ly for more information regarding it.

Moving to "started to" - this makes a sentence passive and slows it down. I hate to put it this way, but it cheapens the writing. Think about it. He started to move toward her. Does it not sound better as He moved toward her and relays the same image. Try this: The rain started to fall. Boring! Being blunt, one could say The rain fell. or rewriting the sentence to Small rain droplets splattered my face. OR Rain lightly splattered the sidewalk, dampening the cement.

"Suddenly." Perhaps a person jumped at you, scaring you. To this end, show that, don't lessen the impact with a "suddenly" to convey the moment. It will take rewriting but it will make your sentences better. Consider: Suddenly, Jason jumped in front of me and I dropped the gun. versus Jason sprang from behind a carton, scaring me and I dropped the gun.

The next item is one that many writers trip over. "to himself" I can't tell you how many times I've read He's cute," she thought to herself. As my mentor told me, who else are you going to think to? Unless of course, you're writing a story about psychic abilities. Even then, if everyone can read your thoughts, could you really think it to yourself and not have everyone know? But I digress. In our world, you think and it is naturally to yourself. You can't think to somebody else.

This is another word that is overused and not needed. "Very." Some may argue that "very" is needed but… It was a very good book. can easily be stated with It was a good book. Now, some will claim that "very" expounds it is better than just plain good. In that case, It was an extremely good book. To me, very seems to be a common word and is easily replaced with better descriptors. Also, one of the worst cases of "very" abuse is — It was very unique. Trust me on this, if it is unique, to state it is very unique, is useless, since to be unique means to be a one-of-a-kind.

There are other useless words that can be replaced or deleted. Take a moment to consider your sentence structure and which words count and which words are just in there to clutter the sentence. One can tighten their writing and pull the reader into the story rather than keep them at arm's length. The above sentence could be modified to:

The feeling gnawed inside and he thought, "Something's wrong!"




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~ COMMENTS ~

Nichole Hall
2015-01-19
I agree! Words like just, that, himself, very, started...those are all words to be cut. I write them in my draft and cut them on the edit. Great reminder of words to put on the chopping block. Thanks!

Bob Nailor
2015-01-19
A fellow author frets every time I edit his work since I tend to eliminate these useless words. I bring down his word count, but I assure him the final word count will be stronger and better. He agrees. He still allows me to edit his work, so I guess that he truly does agree.

Onisha Ellis
2015-01-19
"I would have written shorter if I had more time" is one of my favorite quotes. I have no idea who wrote it. I had a coworker who could make a two minute story last ten minutes. Made me crazy, unless of course, I needed a mental break and zoned out until she reached her point.

Bob Nailor
2015-01-19
Don't fret, Onisha. I looked it up and even the experts aren't too sure who originally made the quote - going clear back to Cicero, but most seem to think it was Pascal. Thing is, it was done said. lol.

Scott Bury
2015-01-19
The only things worse for a writer than useless words are useless phrases and sentences, like "IN light of this," "It is to be noted that," and my un-favourite: "I will now touch upon a consequent idea."

Bob Nailor
2015-01-19
Oh, those phrases. The one I think I despise the most is during a conference when a speaker says "But first let me..." and then discusses something else and finally gets back on topic about 3 minutes before the session. I listened to one speaker say that phrase at least 6 times during his talk, maybe more - I zoned. When I gave my critique and comments, you can bet he heard about that - and I put my name on it. He caught up with me and thanked me saying he didn't even realize he was doing that.

Lisa M. Collins
2015-01-19
I call those extra words, weasel words. Mine are 'that' and 'just'. When I'm done with a chapter I go back and remove all of them, then read for clarity.

Elyse Salpeter
2015-01-19
Suddenly is a word I constantly use and I must really reign that in. It's all over my present WIP... I kept going "really, do I want to say suddenly?" Another great blog post.

Charles Dougherty
2015-01-19
Good post, Bob. I'm on alert for all of those. The Hemingway app -- free online, $5 to download - does a decent job of flagging these and others. I run most of my work through it. It also picks up other problems. It's not perfect but it's a good tool,

Onisha Ellis
2015-01-20
I feel a scheme forming, Bud. I am doing first edits on Rebekah's latest. I could download the program, run the book through it and she would wowed at my speed.Hehehe

Charles Dougherty
2015-01-20
You can actually try it online, Onisha. The link is http://www.hemingwayapp.com/. I like it enough so that I splurged and bought the desktop version for $5. It's well worth it to me. There's an iPad app called Phraseology which is similar. I use it, too.