Monday, July 9, 2012

Mechanics on Monday: Save your words by Tina Vaughn

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.

For example:
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.

For example:
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.

For example:
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?


  1. Great post! Hey, you haven't been hanging over my shoulder as I've been editing, have you? *G* Right now, I'm having a love affair with 'that'. I love it sooo much I've found it up to three times in one sentence. Oh my!!! LOL. Needless to say I cleaned it up in the editing phase.

    I don't have any helpful suggestions on how delete those unnecessary words. I basically have a list of words and use the 'find' function. Nothing fancy or special but it gets the job done.

  2. Nice post, Tina! We should all strive for tight writing, and those small changes add up when you're nearing the upper limits of a word count.

    I've got a few bad habits that I need to edit out every time I finish a draft. I'm partial to adjectives and adverbs, for example, and while they can season prose nicely, they can also ruin it in large doses. In my last draft, my editor pointed out that I use "began to" a lot. Apparently I love saying that my characters began to do all kinds of things. They're always moving, those characters! This time around I'm avoiding "began to" like a bad cliche, but I'm falling back on "then", as in, "He opened the door and then walked through." I don't need the "then" because obviously he opened the door before walking through; I'm not writing paranormals. But for some reason I like to say it, and I have to learn to let it go.

    It's a constant battle. :-)

  3. Great post! This is something I struggle with each manuscript. I do what Jennifer does-use the 'find''s quite amazing to see how many words I repeat! :-)

  4. Another great topic choice, Tina. I've found switching to short story writing between longer works has helped me over the years. There's nothing like an impending word count to have you analysing the relevance of every word. I'm naturally verbose so it doesn't come easy. My biggest lesson to date was New Voices 2010 when I only had 200 words left for the pivotal moment. I learned a heck of a lot from that challenge. Every single word really did count. I still slip into too much 'that' and 'just' amongst many other sins, but at least I'm more aware now.