As I approach the editing phase of my writing process for my current project, one of my favorite rules is: save your words. The phrase is actually No. 1 on my editing checklist.
The checklist is a handy guide to editing my own work. I consider the checklist a flowing document where I constantly add to my list of self-proclaimed writing evils. It includes common mistakes I make while writing–things I know I'm not supposed to be doing but in the midst of a creative roll, when the words are flowing so well, I might not catch or notice them. This is why the list comes in handy. It contains everything from my favorite overused words to special formatting guidelines from my publisher.
For me, save your words means I need to do address at least two matters in my manuscript.
The first is redundant words or phrases. These are actions that repeat or duplicate themselves, often making parts of the phrases unnecessary.
Some examples include shrugging shoulders, nodded her head, sat down, etc.
Ryan shrugged his shoulders. Isn't “his shoulders” implied?
Ryan shrugged. Same meaning, fewer words.
The next is filler words. I've also heard them called tired words. They are often used as modifiers but add no real meaning.
He's very cute. I could drop very here because it doesn't add any real meaning to cute. Your “very” and my “very” could have two very different meanings. ; )
He's cute. Same meaning, fewer words.
That and then are two of my words to abuse. If you can drop that or then and keep the meaning of the sentence intact, you don't need to use either word.
I think that you should accept my invitation to dinner.
I think you should accept my invitation to dinner. Same meaning, fewer words.
If you go to the city, then I'm coming with you. (I recall my teachers hammering the importance of the if, then statement. My, how things change.)
If you go to the city, I'm coming with you. Same meaning, fewer words.
Cutting these small, but unnecessary, words throughout your manuscript will quickly add up and help you reach your ideal word count and even allow you some wiggle room for adding depth to scenes.
So do you have a save your words approach? What tips or tricks can you offer for deleting unnecessary or redundant words and phrases?