News room: How to Give Up Weak Words for Lent

How to Give Up Weak Words for Lent by Jessica Barrah

During Lent, some people give up alcohol, whilst others renounce chocolate in anticipation of the Easter egg extravaganza. But if you’re thinking about something else to cut out of your life, removing unnecessary words from your writing can be an easy way to make your prose stronger. Use the ‘find’ function in Word to locate them in your own writing, and delete when appropriate.

1. Just

Removing the word ‘just’ rarely affects meaning, and its removal often tightens a sentence. You can use it to make dialogue realistic – people don’t edit how they speak – but in prose it can become repetitive.

2. Really

In conversation, people ‘really’ use the word a lot, but it’s usually unnecessary in your writing.
The test was hard. The test was really hard. Cutting it out doesn’t change the meaning.

3. Very

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very,’” said Mark Twain. “Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Very is a very weak word. Cut it out – and your writing will be very much better.

4. Perhaps/Maybe

Again, in dialogue, people do often use “maybe” and “perhaps,” but in prose it conveys uncertainty. This maybe perhaps what you’re after. But check the sense of your sentence, and see if you can eliminate them.

5. Quite

“Quite,” can mean quite a few things – “a bit” or “completely” or “almost.” Sometimes the word is useful, but sometimes it’s padding. Evaluate which one it is, and remove it when needed.

6. That

If you remove the word ‘that’ does your sentence still make sense?
It was the best book that I’d ever read.

Without the ‘that’, it’s still fine.Chop it out wherever possible.

7. Then

When you’re writing about a sequence of events, try removing ‘then’. If it doesn’t make sense, add ‘and’ instead.

“I opened the door, then fell over a hockey stick my son had left in the doorway. Then my dog rushed up and knocked over my shopping, and then the oranges rolled all over the floor."

Cutting out ‘then’ and rephrasing the sentences would make them stronger.

8. Dialogue Tags – Said, Replied, Asked etc

Keep dialogue tags for the first exchanges of conversation, but once you’ve established who is talking, readers can follow the flow themselves without too much trouble. Add in action to let us see what else the characters are doing, revealing more about the characters or their surroundings and indicating who is talking, instead of “he said… she replied”.

9. Rather, somewhat, somehow

He was rather angry, but I knew, somehow, that he’d feel somewhat better by tomorrow.
Use your common sense when cutting out words. Yes, you can use them occasionally, but check your prose, and make sure you’re not filling it out with words that don’t work hard for you, and which you can remove without changing the sense of the sentence.

10. Adverbs ending in “-ly”

Adverbs ‘tell’ rather than show. Paint a picture by telling the reader that ‘the water sparkled with dancing sequins’ rather than ‘the sun shone brightly on the water’.

We hope this has given you some ideas of how to cut out unnecessary words, and do share your top editing tips with us!

Further reading:

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Written by
Jessica Barrah
Published on
Writing, Self-publishing, Authors, Editing, Cutting out, and Lent