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Editing Tip: My Take on Eliminating Words and Sharpening Language

So, you’ve finished your first draft, gone in and smoothed over your plot, and now it’s time to focus on language rather than content. Where do you start?

Years ago, I stumbled across a list of words to eliminate and an online writer’s tool as I edited my first novel; the combination became my first step at cutting vague or repetitious words, finding awkward language, typos, and the like. Since then, my editor and I have added to this list, and I’ve sent it off to several of the authors I’ve worked with.

They’ve proven effective.

Let me share my methods with you.

The list(s):

Original words to eliminate:

  • That
  • As (was)
  • Were
  • Just
  • Only
  • Try
  • Tried
  • Moment
  • Turn
  • Glance
  • Fro (From)
  • Could/Would
  • Had
  • Almost
  • Barely
  • Nearly
  • Even
  • Somehow
  • Something
  • Still
  • There
  • Manage
  • Feel/Felt
  • Like

Alisha’s Additions

  • Think
  • Thought
  • Notice
  • Saw
  • Look
  • Hear(d)
  • Taste

Anthony’s Additions:

  • Got
  • Went
  • Very
  • Important
  • Used to
  • Every
  • Never
  • Seem
  • Often
  • Big
  • Small
  • Have got

Obviously, you can’t cut them all, but look closely at the lines you use these in and play with the language to see if the word(s) can be eliminated. This typically makes language stronger and more active—more show and less tell.

The easiest way to utilize this list is to start at the top. Use the find option (command+f for mac or control+f for pc) and search for one word at a time through a chapter. This allows you to isolate and eliminate much more effectively than working through all of these words at once. Once you hit the end of the chapter, move on to the next word until you’ve worked through them all.

Finally, copy and paste the whole chapter (or part depending on its length) through ProWriting Aid (http://prowritingaid.com/). Join with the free membership, that’s all that is really needed. Your editor will fine tune what’s left.

How do you hone your language?

Feel free to comment, ask questions, and make your own suggestions.