Cut the Filler Words That Kill Your Writing
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As writers, we all have a tendency to use extra, unneeded (see what I did there?) filler words that slow down the pacing of our writing and kill the overall effect. So what are these words that we need to axe from our writing?
Ahhhh, the dreaded adverb. You know, the part of speech Stephen King refers to as “paving the road to hell.” Yikes. That’s pretty harsh, Stephen. Moreover, it might’ve gone against everything you learned in school. Your middle and high school English teachers probably encouraged you to use adverbs: show how they’re walking, show how she’s talking, show the way she’s staring. Turns out, adverbs do way more telling than showing. Yep, it’s true. While I’m not as opposed to adverbs as Stephen King, I do believe they’re best used in moderation.
Here’s the real problem with adverbs: they make you a lazy writer. That’s right. I said it, and I’m not taking it back. Look at the two sentences below, and tell me which one is better.
She carefully walked across the field.
She tiptoed across the field.
The second sentence better conveys how she’s walking. Instead of using an adverb + verb, just use one powerful and specific verb in its place. You’re not only cutting out weak verbs (i.e., walked), but you’re showing the reader what your character is doing as opposed to telling what your character is doing.
As far as I know, there aren’t any scary, all-encompassing quotes about prepositions. And that’s because we need prepositions in our writing. Don’t worry. I’m not about to tell you to use prepositions in moderation (unless you’re using two or more prepositional phrases in the same sentence, then I might tell you to cut that out). The danger with prepositions is redundancy, and like with adverbs, laziness.
She sat down.
He jumped up.
If you’re a grammarian, you might be thinking, Hey, those above prepositions are acting as adverbs! That’s a gray area in grammar, and for the simplicity of this post, we’ll call them prepositions.
For the rest of you, her sitting implies she’s going down. So axe the “down.” It’s not necessary. But furthermore, “she sat” is a bit bland. Once again, if we’re trying to show and use strong verbs, spice up those sentences by removing the verb + preposition and opting for a more powerful verb.
She slumped onto the bench. (See? That’s the more powerful showing I’m talking about.)
This is one topic I really can’t help you with. I can’t tell you what crutch words you’re using (unless you hire me as your editor, hint hint). That is for you to decide. Hopefully, you’ve got some great betas who can point out the words you’re using too much. Crutch words will differ for every writer. But, below are a list of unnecessary words that writers tend to use too much and too often (you’ll notice many of these words are adverbs).
If you’re having trouble identifying crutch words you use in writing, ask your beta readers if they can point out words you use over and over again.
Sometimes, adverbs, prepositions, and crutch words can be redundant. Other times, we use “favorite” words that can be strong on their own, but when used too much, they become noticeable and a hindrance to our writing.
For instance, in my own writing, a beta pointed out that I used “eyes flashing” a lot. Once or twice? Sure, that’s okay. But if in every chapter, my characters’ eyes flash, it becomes disruptive and annoying to the reader. Once again, this is something your betas can point out to you. Oftentimes, it’s hard to figure out the words we’re using repetitively because distancing ourselves from our own writing is difficult. So take advantage of your betas and see if they can help point out some of the words you’re using over and over again.
What about you, writers? What are some of your worst offenders when it comes to filler words?