I get a sense of completion when I type “the end” on a first draft of a story, but at that point I’m only half done. My manuscript goes through several rounds of revision and editing before I submit it. In my first “editing” iteration, I fix the big things: add scenes, beef up scenes, flesh out characters. I do more rewriting than editing. With the story set, on the second pass, I watch for flow, passive voice, inconsistencies, omissions, pacing.
At some point, possibly the third or fourth pass-through, I hand my manuscript over to my computer to edit by using the search/find function to catch word repetitions, fluff, and even more passive voice. Finding these words on my own after I’ve read my manuscript dozens of times is impossible. I don’t see them. That’s why I let my computer do it.
Replacing common words with more descriptive, concise verbs will, by itself, perk up a manuscript. Sometimes all that’s required is to plug in a synonym, although sometimes reconfiguring sentences is necessary.
I also use search/find to “de-was” my manuscript. Nothing compares to seeing 491 “wases” lit up in yellow to highlight one’s shame. I’m not exaggerating about the number. That’s how many “was” usages my current 35K WIP contained. *Hangs head* (In my defense, five or six of them came from words like wash and waste so they weren’t all wases).
Search for and destroy these words:
really – delete
just – delete
that – delete
totally – delete
Was – rewrite the sentence. Flip it around to make it active. I’ve read a lot of good stories that could have been great except for the overuse of “was.” If you do nothing else, rewrite the wases out of your manuscript.
Feel/felt – show the emotion, don’t state it. An example from my WIP:
Before: He’d intercepted her hurt glances, and that made him feel even worse
After: He’d intercepted hurt glances that jabbed at his conscience.
Begin/began – often characters don’t need “to begin” anything. Have them do it.
Before: He began to get worried she’d been in an accident.
After: He worried she’d crashed the car.
Try/tried – the same as begin/began. Often unecessary
Before: She tried unsuccessfully to call her mother.
After: She called her mother, but no one answered.
Look – characters look a lot because authors use this verb as a tag to indicate who’s speaking. Find a more creative tag.
Walk – find a synonym. Did your character walk, or did she creep, inch, stride, skip, flounce, glide, race…see the difference? Maybe she didn’t need walk to at all. Maybe she left.
Made/make – rewriting these words out of a sentence strengthens it
Turn – ditto
Take/took – ditto again
Think/thought – delete.
Before: “I think we should knock him out, tie him up and ransom him for a billion dollars.”
After “Let’s knock him out, tie him up and ransom him for a billion dollars.”
Yes, in real life people say, “think” a lot. But fiction isn’t real. It should be better than real.
Know – the same as think “I know he’s a too-timing loser, but I love him.” Better: “He’s a two-timing loser, but I love him.” Or: “I love the two-timing loser.”
Want – find a more concise, descriptive term. Rewrite the sentences. Examples from my WIP:
Before: She wanted to be there for her friend, but she didn’t want to pry.
After: A fine line stretched between being a good friend and prying.
Not – Added to a verb, not makes the word negative. Find a single word that means the same thing. Most nots will be hidden in contractions: didn’t, don’t, won’t
Before: I don’t want to hurt Chance.
After: I hate hurting Chance.
“Ly” words – these are adverbs that end in ly: quickly, slowly, quietly, softly, etc. Instead of tacking on a modifier to a lackluster verb, find a strong verb that means the same thing: spoke quietly = whispered; walked quickly = sprinted, hurried, rushed.
When used in moderation, these words are okay. But relying on them creates a lifeless story. Sometimes, yes, you will need to use want, walk, look, just, really and even, was. But reserve usage for when no other word will do.
What words do you delete from your manuscripts?