Utterly Unnecessary

Freya with the letter UToday’s writing tip courtesy of the letter U is unnecessary words.  We should always strive to make our writing as tight as possible.  It creates dynamic sentences that help the reader become immersed in the story rather than focused on the words telling the story.  I regularly participate in a flash fiction contest where the stories have to be less than 1000 words, and I always aim to make my first draft at least 300 words over the limit.  During the revision process, I then have to find a way to cut those extra words and end up crafting stronger sentences because of it.

There are lots of ways to create more concise, zippier sentences, but an easy cut is filler words like: very, really, just, and that.  They are almost always unnecessary and lazily lounge on the page adding nothing to the meaning of the sentence.  I don’t usually have an issue with very or really, but I do tend to overuse that, and my personal kryptonite is just.  

An editor at a conference first pointed out my just issue to me, so I did a Ctrl+F on my novel and was horrified to find at least one just on every page.  Some pages had more than ten!  I just don’t know why because it just seems odd, but I just love just.  And knowing about my problem doesn’t make me use it less.  I’ll write a quick email and be absolutely certain it is just free only to discover five justs sitting there like weeds in my sentences.  So I now use Ctrl+F as my trusty weed detector with everything I write and go through yanking those suckers out by the roots.  

I just want to let you know that I’m going to the library.

I want to let you know I’m going to the library.

Now neither sentence is spectacular, but you can see how removing the empty words just and that doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence at all and makes it less wordy and easier to read.

In some instances the use of these unnecessary words is justified, so when you come across a sentence with one of them, read it both with and without the word.  If the meaning doesn’t change, yank it outta there!

Do any of the unnecessary words plague you?  Do you try to keep them out while writing first drafts or remove them later?  How Upside-down is Freya with her U


DayDreamer's picture

It's so east to pad out a sentence with these words. I bet your stories are all the better for slipping too many of them out. I don't write books like you but do need to communicate via writing for my work, my unnecessary word is 'although', it gets used all the time.

jesstopper's picture

I've recently become hyper-aware of over-using "that" - and yes, 90% of the time it is totally unnecessary! Will have to watch for others - great post!

Gail Baugniet's picture

"But" is another word that gets overused (often by me, but I'm getting better!)

http://gail-baugniet.blogspot.com Theme: A World of Crime

Jemima Pett's picture

I have been word-blind but thanks to you and other editing gurus I am imporving. I wonder how many words I would take out of my first book if I re-edited it?

Jemima Pett's picture

Oh darn - you see how word-blind I am??

Valued Visitor's picture

I just wanted to let you know that I liked your post. It made me just aware of how we over use certain words. I also wanted you to know that I appreciated that you came over to my page and left a nice just fine comment.

Oh, sheesh, I am beginning to annoy myself.

Thanks again!

~Naila Moon


David M Brown's picture

It's a valuable lesson for all writers. I'll be honest. My first drafts are always far too wordy but I've learned to the subsequent drafts much tighter and concise and it is amazing how many words you can eliminate.

Thanks for sharing this post.

Jeri's picture

It seems that I like to use "seems" to refer to just about everything in the first draft of the book I'm working on. My characters also like to glance, glower, stare, and gaze quite a lot! Thank goodness for revision. I always know when one of my projects is getting better when I can cut massive amounts of unnecessary words. Conciseness is definitely a writer's best friend.

Stephanie's picture

This is brilliant! Now, if only I could get all of my students to read it!!! :D

Lee's picture

Good post, these are easy points to forget in the heat of writing!

Jolie du Pre's picture

I try to eliminate unnecessary words from my fiction as much as possible.

Also, Jocelyn, if you like flash fiction, the deadline for flash fiction submitted to my site Leodegraunce is April 30.

Medeia Sharif's picture

I've gone a long way in editing. I'm better at catching and deleting thats, justs, and other redundancies.

Valued Visitor's picture

Good advice, I'm as guilty as the next man for using several of these words, although I do manage to eradicate them on a second read through...good post!

John Holton's picture

For me, it's "which". I should probably use "that" in situations where I'm using "which". I am learning to write my sentences without either.

michelle's picture

Great post!
I know that I use the word 'wonderful' quite a lot - but that's on blog post comments.

Jocelyn Rish's picture

Nice to hear I'm not the only one who latches on to certain words.  And I'll be sure to be on the lookout for the other words y'all have mentioned to make sure I'm not overusing them.

Sheenah Freitas's picture

Unnecessary words will be the death of every writer. Sometimes it's so hard to see what's wrong with our writing. My kryptonite: adverbs. I want to describe how everyone is doing something.

Jocelyn Rish's picture

I used to thing adverbs were the best thing ever and was surpised to find out how reviled they are in the world of writing.  :-)

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