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

Your Second Draft and Beyond

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

Now every author approaches their second draft different. For me, this is a time to check the consistency and where I can amend the story either by trimming it, fleshing it out or developing subplots.

To do this, I cannot stop on every page to fix and worry over every word. That will come later. To begin, I need to read through the first draft without stopping to correct every flaw. Yes, I may add a missing word or fix a spelling error, but I try not to get into re-writing at this stage. I want to read it straight through first. As I read, I am making notes of areas that need work, whether it be adding something, deleting the scene or polishing. I am checking the timeline and looking for consistency in travel time or character behavior.

Now once I have read through and made my notes, my second draft isn’t done until I go back and make all those changes. For me, the second draft is about re-writing, expanding and cutting scenes. Descriptions are added to bring the story and characters to life. Scenes that don’t advance the story are deleted – even if they are well-written or your favorite. Don’t worry about cutting words. It isn’t about how long your story is. It is about writing a good, compelling story.

Sometimes you will re-work an area once or twice. And sometimes it will take many more tries until you get it right. (Ernest Hemingway admitted to rewriting the final words A Farewell to Arms, his wartime masterpiece, 39 times before he was satisfied.)

This part of editing where you take away and add to the story can be very messy, and you may need to be ruthless, but it will make your story better, stronger.

It may take many read-throughs to finish this stage (which depending on how you count them could be considered additional drafts.) If you do multiple readings, you should take a break between each one. This will allow you to view your novel with “fresh eyes” and will help you catch more things that need to be changed. That break can be a few days or even a week or more.

When done with this draft, you may be ready to send your story to a beta reader. But they will undoubtedly have their opinions which you may feel the need to heed. That will mean more editing and adjusting of your story.

And when you are done perfecting the story, the timeline, and the characters, it is time for the third draft. This one is about polishing. It is aboutImage result for delete key perfecting word choices, deleting words, tightening scenes even more and of course proofreading. I have a revision outline that I use at this stage and will share that in the upcoming weeks. But before I get to that, I spend time removing unnecessary words (next week’s topic) and removing or changing words that I use too often. (This is where the “Find” feature of Microsoft Word comes in handy.)

This is also where you can look at dialogue tags or to see if you use your character’s name too often. (I have the habit of using their names a lot in my first draft.)

You could send it to a beta reader (possibly again) at this point or you can simply step back from your work. Take a break. Work on something else or do some pre-release publicity. Then come back and do one final (or we hope final) read-through where you will can deem it ready for publishing. I also suggest reading your book aloud (either yourself or by having the computer do it for you.) You can catch missing words and make sure dialogue flows and is natural.

Now this is just a sample of how my work typically goes. Depending on the author, it can take many more drafts based on how much work needs to be done and what you consider a “draft.” Just as there is no “right” way to write a novel, each of us will have a different number of “drafts.” All that matters is that you take the time to polish and perfect your work BEFORE you publish it.

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

Editing a Novel Recap

proofThis week is Spring Break for my kids. As we have activities planned each day, I am going to take the easy way out and instead of writing something new, I am going to do a recap of some of my posts on editing your novel.

First Draft: Editing and Writing at the Same Time – One of my past posts was about writing your first draft. My advice to new writers was to just begin writing and not worry about editing until you had everything down. And this is great advice, but it isn’t how my first draft goes. (To read more, click here.)

Working on my second draft – I finished the first draft on my current work in progress at the end of September. Now to many a first draft is just getting the story down.

If you use an outline and plotted out your story, it might be in good shape. Or you may have just written whatever came to you and have a lot of work to do before reaching the final product. (To continue reading, click here.)

Trimming unnecessary words during my third draft –  In October, I wrote about starting my second draft, which was all about fixing story errors and concentrating on the continuity of the storyline. In November, I began the third draft which is mainly about tightening my writing. (To trim unnecessary words, click here.)

(This is obviously an important topic as I have written on it twice – once when completing Destiny and again when I finished up The Heir to Alexandria.)

Trimming excess words from your novel – As I am editing my latest work, Destiny, I noticed that my word count keeps decreasing as I polish the sentences and remove many unnecessary words.

I have found that one word I used a lot in my original draft which is totally unnecessary is “that.” Now there is nothing wrong with this word, but often it can be cut without any loss of meaning to the sentence. (To read more, click here.)

Focusing on Content Editing –  I have discussed writing your first draft and even doing some editing as you write, but today I wanted to talk about content editing. This is where you aren’t fixing just wording or punctuation but looking more at the plot and characters. (To learn more, click here.)

Using a revision outline to guide editing your novel – Last week, I posted about content editing your novel. In the post, I mentioned that I use a revision outline, so I wanted to share that with you today. (To see the revision outline, click here.)

Picking stronger words – Today’s blog topic comes from helping my son do his homework last week. One of the assignments was to replace the verbs with stronger ones. (For help choosing stronger words, click here.)

Using beta readers to improve your novel – You have written your novel and been through it many times tweaking and perfecting the plot and scenes. You just know it will be well received. But if you think it is ready for publication now, you are missing a valuable step in the self-publishing process. As a writer you have been too close to your work. You may have not caught plot inconsistencies or realized the characters aren’t staying true to themselves. One of the best ways to catch these errors before submitting your work to an editor is to have your manuscript read by a – or better yet several – beta readers. (To continue reading, click here.)

Hopefully, you will find some useful information in these posts. And I promise a new post will be up next Thursday.

 

Trimming unnecessary words during my third draft

In October, I wrote about starting my second draft, which was all about fixing story errors and concentrating on the continuity of the storyline. In November, I began the third draft which is mainly about tightening my writing.

To start with, I looked at removing those unnecessary words and removing or changing words that I use too often. From my previous list and another one I found on the internet, I picked about 42 words to search out in my manuscript. I think as I went through these words I added 8 more words to the list.

proofBy using the Find feature in Word, I pulled up these words and then decided if they were necessary. Often they were not, and I deleted them or reworded the sentence. When I started, my novel was 101,355 words. I cut about 2,000 words. I can’t even begin to tell you how many words I ended up changing, but it was a lot.

I have the habit when I am writing my first draft to use my characters’ names a lot but as I clean up my novel, I replace those names with she, her, he or him as needed.

Another word I over use is “that.” I started with 956 and ended up deleting 300 of those.

After deleting or changing the words on my list, I began going over each chapter with my Revision Outline. This helps me review each section for structure and blending. I review dialogue and work on tightening the pace.

The outline instructions say to do each step one at a time, but I usually end up doing multiple steps at once. I also run my grammar program on each chapter when I am done with making my revisions.

Every so often – about every 10 chapters – I would go back and read aloud what was written. This is a great way to make sure everything sounds good. You can see if dialogue flows. And sometimes you catch that you use a word too often. I noted once that I had the word “room” five times in just three sentences. Needless to say, I changed that.

I am just finishing up the third draft. When I started, my novel was at 101,355 words. After the third draft, it has been trimmed down to 95,723 words. Yes – 5632 words were cut, but I know this is a better version of my story. It isn’t about how long your story is. It is about writing a good, compelling story.

Now this draft is not my final one. After I get done making my changes, I will put it away for a few days and come back at look it with fresh eyes. Then I will read it again – probably aloud. I will also have my husband read it. He likes having the computer read it to him as he makes any notes of things that are rough or need work but at this stage that shouldn’t be much.

After that…it will be time to publish this baby!