Update: words to be wary of

EditingI’ve been doing a lot of editing in the last two months. A lot. I’ve done a first read on Lucid Dreaming, and separately incorporated feedback from a CP on it. I’ve CPed something in return. And, the biggest one of all, I got my first-round edits back from Turquoise Morning Press on Isla’s Inheritance.

So I guess it’s no surprise that I’ve added words to my list of things to keep an eye out for. So here’s an updated version. Maybe it will help others out too.

Adverbs (words usually ending in ly) – Do a search for words ending in “ly” and see whether you need them. Sometimes you can delete them outright; other times you can write around them. Rarely will you need them.

Dialogue tags such as gasped, shouted, yelled, cried, squealed, exclaimed, pronounced, whispered… I could go on all day. Check out this post if you want more information.

began to, started to, suddenly – “She began to run” is a long-winded way of saying “she ran”. Sometimes “began to” can be useful—say, when a girl begins crying halfway through an argument with her boyfriend—but not usually. And the house “suddenly” exploding isn’t any more shocking than the house exploding.

had – I’ve seen some people suggest you never need the word “had”. I don’t agree; in a past-tense novel it can be useful to flag that you’re talking about something that happened prior to the current scene. For example, “I had been to the shops”. If you say “I went to the shops” the way you would in a present-tense document (or life) then people will get confused about when the event happened. That being said, it’s not always necessary so use with caution.

of the – This is a typical indicator of a passive sentence, which is often unnecessary and always more wordy than an active sentence. For example: “The hair of the dog” vs “The dog’s hair”. Times you might want to keep a passive sentence include when the actor in the sentence is irrelevant or unknown; for example, “He was killed” versus “Bob killed him”. The latter is spoileriffic!

around, possibly, probably, likely, usually, almost, mostly – Do you need the qualification? If not, it should go.

seemed to – Because both my books are in the first person I overuse this phrase to describe my character’s interpretation of others’ feelings, thoughts or opinions. But nine times out of ten it doesn’t need to be there.

realised, knew, thought, saw, heard, felt (or their present-tense equivalents) These phrases all flag a place where you’re telling rather than showing. “I felt angry” is the author telling the reader how the character felt, rather than showing it: “My fists clenched as fury raced through my veins”. (It’s terrifying how often I misuse these words!)

of Sometimes this is unnecessary. Consider ‘The rage beat inside of my heart’. What is the ‘of’ contributing?

that – Sometimes you need “that” in a sentence. There are quite a few of them throughout this blog post. But you can often delete it with no impact on the meaning. Also, make sure you shouldn’t really be using ‘which’.

very, really, pretty (when it’s being used to mean “very”), just, simply, totally, finally, apparently, allegedly, supposedly, usually, awesome, fabulous, fantastic, incredible, wonderful – I keep these in dialogue and thoughts (because that’s how people talk), but at almost no other time. Note a lot of them are also adverbs?

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