Unnecessary and Redundant WordsRedundant words get in the way of your prose and slows the reader down. Because they don't contribute any forward movement or essential information, you would be better off removing them whenever you can. If a verb implies an action, you don't need to state it.
began/started/start to: A character either does something or doesn't do something. Occasionally, it might be necessary for a character to "begin" an action if they will be interrupted or unable to complete the action. Also, if you interrupt the character's speech, you don't need to use began or started as a dialogue tag. It's redundant, especially if you use a dash (—) or an ellipse (…). It is much better to write action that moves things forward.
♦ Jenny began to laugh.
♦ Allison turned and started to stroll strolled toward the door.
♦ "Doug," Eric began, "are you okay?"
♦ Better: "Doug!" Eric rushed toward the figure sprawled on the floor. "Are you okay?"
Sometimes ‘almost’ can work but often it’s not needed. Eg: With his sunken eyes and pallor he
Usually there is a stronger word available to replace the need for ‘very’, or the phrase can be changed completely to something else. Eg: ‘very sad’ could become ‘despondent’. Eg: It was very sunny. Better: It was sunny. Even better: She squinted as the sun’s glare rebounded off the pavement and hit her eyes.
When this is used alongside ‘to’, as in ‘started to’, it’s probably not needed. Eg: She started to get dressed. Better: She got dressed. Even better: She zipped her jeans and put on a t-shirt.
This is similar to ‘started’. Eg: It began to rain. Better: Droplets of rain dampened her hair, or: He flicked on the windscreen wipers as rain blurred the road ahead.
Remove the word ‘up’. If someone stood, it’s obviously up.
Remove the word ‘down’. If someone is going from a standing position to a sitting position it is obviously ‘down’. Except if the person is lying down and then changes to a sitting position.
Removing ‘heard’ or ‘hear’ gives the reader a more vivid experience. Eg: She heard someone call her name. Better: A voice called her name. Eg: I could hear the rain pelting against the window. Better: rain pelted against the window.
Same as with ‘heard’. Eg: She saw his face through the window. Better: His eyes glared at her through the window. Eg: I could see him coming towards me. Better: He came towards me.
Telling a reader what a character felt is not as powerful as showing them. Eg: She felt relaxed and happy. Better: She leaned back in the chair and a smile eased onto her face.
Eg: If she could
|Up:||He stood up.|
|Down:||She sat down in the chair.|
|In:||The clues all pointed in his direction.|
|Out:||The cloth was spread out over the table.|
Other words that are usually unnecessary and slow down prose:
|anyway:||She wanted to go anyway.|
|even:||Lori wasn't even sure she needed it.|
|just:||He just couldn't believe her eyes.|
|quite:||He wasn't quite ready to face her.|
|rather:||He was rather tired of all the lies.|
|really:||She really should get out of bed.|
Weak words come in several varieties and are generally words that don't add much to your writing. They are overused, colorless, or generic words that should be avoided whenever possible to a certain degree. Like all things, moderation is the key. I have divided the words into the following sections:
Seem/appear: Weakens and Dilutes. Use only when you want to create an image of doubt. Writing seamlessly gives your novel a trim, tailored look and creates action with greater impact. People don't want to read about things that seem to take place. Dare to be more direct and definitive in your style. Speak with authority.
Weak: Harry’s presence seemed to dominate the camp.
Stronger: Harry’s presence dominated the camp.
Weak: Star seemed to be growing annoyed.
Stronger: Star grew annoyed.
There: Should be removed when possible especially if it functions as a mere place filler for the more particular words that you have failed to provide.
Weak: “If there are men that close, we’d better run.”
Stronger: “If men are that close, we’d better run.”
There + “be” verb (is, are, was, were): Try to use “there was” and “there is” as little as possible because it can slow down your writing. Besides, it is not necessary to tell the reader that an action occurs or an object exists “there.” Instead of telling it, show it.
Weak: There were grunts of disapproval from Bosley’s brothers.
Stronger: Bosley’s brothers grunted in disapproval.
Weak: There are five chicks huddled in the nest.
Stronger: Five chicks huddled in the nest.
Thing, anything, nothing, something: These words, if you use them a lot, hint that you need to work harder on either your vocabulary or your willingness to use it. They functions as a mere place filler for the more particular words that you have failed to provide. They have no more substance that do air bubbles in a pie filling.
“Filtering” is when you place a character between the detail you want to present and the reader. The term was started, I believe, by Janet Burroway in her book On Writing. Once you have established your point of view, you do not need to keep mentioning the character. The most common filtering words are: know, hear, notice, smell, saw, look, watch, taste, and any versions of these words. This is doubly true for any sentences that include these words and the word “could.” There is a very good article by Kate Gerard titled “Get your characters out of my way” that covers this topic in more depth. However, allow me to include a few examples of my own.
Filtering: She could see him walking toward her.
Better: He walked toward her.
Filtering: Bob noticed that the meat was rotten. He could it from across the room.
Better: The rotting smell of steak permeated the room.
Colorless verbs are verbs that express action but don't express the “how.” A few examples of colorless verbs are stood, walked, sat, move, came, look, turned, cross, run, go, gone, went, leave and any forms of these words. Sure, sometimes you need to use them, but whenever possible it is best to replace them with a word that has meaning. Take “walk” for example. The word gives no indication about the character's emotion or the tone of the scene. However, by choosing another, more colorful verb, you add much more to your writing.
Example: Lisa walked through the room.
Now, here is the same sentence with various feelings:
Angry: Lisa marched through the room.
Sexy: Lisa sashayed through the room.
Happy: Lisa flittered through the room.
Irritable: Lisa prowled through the room.
Nervous: Lisa skittered through the room.
Injured: Lisa limped through the room.
Stunned: Lisa staggered through the room.
Stunned: Lisa staggered through the room.