Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

This post is the thirty-second in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

As you work on tightening your writing, you need to remove unnecessary word and delete or change words that you might use too often. Often you don’t even realize you are using these words.

Unnecessary words

I will have to say the word I use often that is not necessary is the word “that.” Now there is nothing wrong with this word, but often it can be cut without any loss of meaning to the sentence.

Example from my book Destiny

He only hoped they were right and that slipping the scepter back into the High Council archives would be as easy as Coy thought. – deleted

She began with one the Histories that mentioned King Rupert.  – left in

Another author once commented that he often mentioned his characters taking breaths. “I took a breath and plunged into the forest.” As he noted, breathing should be a given and was only interesting when the character stopped doing it.

Words Used Too Often

Sometimes what you need to do to tighten your writing is to look at your word choices. I found in one my novels that in my first draft, my characters “nod” a lot.

Here are few other words that other authors have said they feel they use too much.

Stare

Just

But

Some

Felt

Gasp

Shrug

Quite

Truly

Definitely

Extremely

Additionally, you can usually delete “really,” “pretty,” and “very” as these are unnecessary modifiers.

This brings me to adverbs which I touched about last week. These are often redundant, or you can replace many adverbs and verbs with a single stronger verb.

Example: Coy closed the door angrily.

Rewrite: Coy slammed the door shut.

I typically search for about 40 different words that I think are unnecessary or that I feel I might use too often, which could even include the names of my characters. The easiest way to do this is to use the “Find” feature on your Word Processing program. On one of my novels, I ended up cutting about 2000 words just by doing this.

Cutting out excess words is just one step in editing your novel. Rest assured as you cut out words and tighten your prose, you are improving your story.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

One thought on “Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

  1. Tonya Barbee says:

    Susan this was very helpful!
    Thank you. Being that I’m going through my manuscript right now I’m going to do just that. Search for those words that are often used too much like “that” and “but.” I appreciate this helpful information.

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