Here at Metamorphosis, we're all about making things easier for writers! What's easier than having a handy list of words to look over when editing? Though you should look at these on a case by case basis, odds are, you can delete, replace, or change all fifteen of these words when they occur in your manuscript!
Some things to remember: You aren't a bad writer if you do these things. You aren't stupid. Every rough draft (and even many final drafts) have these words and phrases! You can even disregard all of them if you want. These are just a jumping off point to get you thinking about how to make your writing stronger.
Example: He put the cat on the table.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this sentence. However, it can be more effective. Remember, verbs don't have to be bland! They can tell us how he put the cat on the table. Did he "throw" it? Did he simply "help" the cat onto the table? Words like these tell you more about the action itself and many time about the character. It may seem small, but changing things like this when it occurs makes your writing more concise. Plus, you can absolutely break out a thesaurus and see what specific verb will help you better get your point across.
Example: He went to the couch.
This is similar to "put" in that it's an action the character performs within a scene. Again, it is a small word that perhaps not many will notice, but it can be changed to make your prose richer. It's all in the specifics when it comes to things like this. How did he go to the couch? He could walk, sprint, jump, hop, saunter, lope, boogie, moonwalk...(you get the idea).
3. Actually (and many, many other adverbs)
Example: She actually smiled when he looked at her.
There's nothing wrong with this sentence, and it can be effective in the right context or with the right voice. However, many adverbs can be cut out completely or replaced by more specific details in the scene.
Better: He'd hurt her and he tried to make a joke to lighten the mood. After three long minutes of ignoring him, she smiled when he looked at her.
This gives us more of a mood and sets the scene not only for the characters, but it gives the reader steady footing in the story so they always know how they should be feeling or reacting.
In grade school, we are taught similes are great tools to have in our writer's toolbox, but you might be surprised at how much more you can do without the "like" or "as".
Example: She was like a bird begging to fly out of this town in search of greater things.
Better: She was a bird begging to fly out of this town in search of greater things.
A tiny adjustment, but look at what it does!
5. Was (or "to be" words like am, are, is, were, being, and been)
A lot of these are hard to avoid (and shouldn't be avoided all the time necessarily). The main thing to remember when using these words is to be conscious of what they are doing. When they are making the sentence passive, you definitely want to see what you can do to change that.
Perfectly Fine: The letter was mailed.
Better: She mailed the letter.
Again, a tiny adjustment, but it goes a long way!
Alone, this word is harmless. However, many writers use this (specifically as a conjunction) when 99% of the time they don't need it!
Better: He said he preferred chocolate ice cream, but took vanilla to be polite.
Perfectly Fine: He said that he preferred chocolate ice cream, but took vanilla to be polite.
See what I mean? Totally not needed!
7. Start, began, begun
This is an inconspicuous one that often hides in your manuscript until you read it a ton of times while editing. It's the lazy, tired writer's way out of making a better sentence, and mostly these stay in until the final round or even get published (which is fine)!
Example: He started to build the house.
Now in order to get around this one, you have to change more than just the word in the sentence (hence the lazy or tired writer).
Better: He woke at dawn, eyes bloodshot from the night before. Tim didn't want to work on the house, but he'd made a commitment to the rest of his family, so he dressed in his overalls and made breakfast. He had put off this project long enough.
There are probably hundreds of ways you can do this (and make them less wordy than me lol), so play around when you see this opportunity!
8. Smile, shrug, nod (and other repetitive actions)
These are the most common actions characters perform in any given manuscript. The key to keeping it interesting is in the details. What is going on in the scene that makes them smile? How do they smile (describe it without adverbs!)? It may take some extra thinking on your part, but the pay off is worth it!
9. Said, asked, joked (and other repetitive dialog tags)
This one can often depend on your style. In most cases, "said" as a dialog tag can become background noise to the reader that just lets them know who is speaking at a given time. However, if you're looking to spice things up, try omitting the tag altogether in favor of the character doing something instead.
Perfectly Fine: "Is there gold in that safe?" she asked.
Better: "Is there gold in that safe?" Her eyes roamed the many numbers that when combined correctly, would grant them access to millions.
More often than not, this word can just be deleted and you can move on. It just isn't necessary.
Example: He just wanted to give her a chance.
Better: He wanted to give her a chance.
The sentence is pretty much the same without it, only now it's cleaner!
This is another one that can simply be deleted in most instances. This word has the uncanny tendency to make things vague when the sentence would otherwise be specific and effective.
Example: It was almost like pushing him off a cliff.
Better: It was like pushing him off a cliff.
Even Better! (see number 4): I pushed him off a cliff.
12. Perfect, beautiful, amazing (and other vague adjectives)
Speaking of vague, let's get rid of adjectives that virtually tell us nothing while we're at it.
Example: He had perfect teeth.
Snore. There are so many ways you can describe the word "perfect". How are his teeth perfect? What makes them this way?
Better: His teeth were pearly white, straight. He must have not only brushed three times a day, but flossed as well.
Okay, I'm having a little fun here, but you get the idea. ;)
13. Very and Really
Like "almost", these two have a tendency to make things more unsteady than solid.
Example: She was very angry.
There isn't anything special about this sentence. It doesn't make us excited or tell us anything other than the fact that the character is mad at something. Instead, let's see what happens when we change the "very angry" to something more specific.
Better: She was irate.
See how that immediately tells you how angry she is? It's word magic!
Is it any surprise that this one also deals with being more specific? I am a huge advocate for specificity because it works! Watch:
Meh: Emily picked up the ferret and placed it on her nervous boyfriend's lap.
Better: Emily picked up the ferret and placed the animal on her nervous boyfriend's lap.
Best: Emily picked up the ferret and placed the glorified weasel on her nervous boyfriend's lap.
Each time the sentence becomes more specific, it becomes more interesting. Try it out and see if you can prove me wrong!
15. "As You Know"
Not so much a word as a phrase, but I've been noticing this trend more and thought I would add it to this handy list.
Most of the time, this occurs in dialog. The writer inserts this to point out the information is important for the reader, but you don't need to write it at all! Everything your characters say and do are important to the reader, so don't feel like you need to light up a neon sign pointing to this fact.
Example: "As you know, George, we haven't gone on a date since 1962."
Simply take out the "as you know" and you have a more effective, straight to the point sentence without taking the reader out of the story!
That's it for this week, folks. Hopefully this post helps you look at your writing with a different lens. Are there other words and phrases you always find yourself deleting when it's edit time? Let me know and they could make it into a future post!