October 14, 2015 | Posted in: Writing & Grammar Tips
Words to Knock Out of Your Writing
Words build your story. The words you choose can strengthen or weaken your story. Some words are unnecessary and can make your writing sound awkward, indecisive, and weaken your story. Procrastinators, Idlers, Flat Modifiers, and Qualifiers are words that can weaken your writing. Look for these words in your story, and if they are weakening it, you should knock these words out of your writing.
Procrastinators are words or phrases that delay or postpone action in your writing. Procrastinators make narration look indecisive—we want action … or do we? Procrastinators serve no purpose in narration and should be knocked out of your writing.
- begin to
- start to
- seem to
- decide to
- going to
- supposed to
- try to
- need to
- able to
- best to
- have to
Example 1: Nicholas began to pace the hallway. vs. Nicholas paced the hallway.
Example 2: Kathy decided to meet John at the bookstore before their date. vs. Kathy met John at the bookstore before their date.
Example 3: Spencer seemed to be confused by Angela’s words, and his brow furrowed. vs. Spencer was confused by Angela’s words, and his brow furrowed. OR Angela’s words confused Spencer, and his brow furrowed. OR Spencer’s brow furrowed. Angela’s words made no sense to him.
Causing is typically seen as “Something happened causing something else to happen next.” Causing statements can pull your reader from the story and remind them they are reading a story, not living a story.
Example: Maggie bumped into the shelf causing the crystal vase to fall down and break. vs. Maggie bumped into the shelf. The crystal vase fell and broke.
Idlers are words or phrases without purpose or effect. They are pointless, spend time doing nothing to strengthen your writing or move your story forward, and can slow the pace down. Knock idlers out of your writing and you’ll see a smoother flow.
- the fact that/due to the fact that
- there is/are/was/were
- with that/and with that
- is that it
- type of/kind of/sort of
- I know/knew and He/she knows/knew
Example 1: The fact that Andrew was scared of the dark didn’t stop him from entering the cave. vs. Andrew was scared of the dark, but he entered the cave. OR Andrew entered the cave, pushing his fear of the dark aside. OR Entering the cave, Andrew’s fear of the dark overwhelmed him.
Example 2: There were cobwebs hanging from every corner of the ceiling. vs. Cobwebs hung from every corner of the ceiling.
Example 3: And with that, she slammed the door and left. vs. She slammed the door and left. (There’s no need to connect a thought/dialogue/action to another with “and with that” as readers know the two pieces are related and what happened first.)
Example 4: He knew the creek would be flooded since it happened during the spring every year. vs. The creek flooded every spring.
Flat Modifiers are words or phrases that attempt to make other words stronger. Flat modifiers are lazy words and tend to make writing dull and boring instead of strengthening it. Knock flat modifiers out of your writing or replace with stronger word choices.
Example 1: Linda really liked Bob’s painting. The painting was actually really nice. vs. Linda liked (or loved) Bob’s painting. The painting was breathtaking (or beautiful, amazing).
Example 2: He totally liked the way Miranda looked in the black dress. She was really quite pretty. vs. He loved the way Miranda looked in the black dress. She was stunning (or gorgeous, beautiful).
Qualifiers are words or phrases typically used to modify another word. Qualifiers often mean weak adjectives or nouns were used instead of stronger words and can weaken your writing. Knock qualifiers out of your writing or replace with stronger word choices.
- a little
Example 1: Mark just needed only one more part to finish his go-cart. vs. Mark needed one more part to finish his go-cart.
Example 2: Giving a speech in front of the class was probably the hardest thing Mariah had ever done. vs. Giving a speech in front of the class was the hardest thing Mariah had ever done.
Example 3: Trevor was somewhat angry he missed the bus. vs. Trevor was upset (or frustrated) he missed the bus.
Example 4: Tara was very angry when John knocked her in the mud. vs. Tara was irate (or furious, enraged, outraged, indignant, irritated, incensed) when John knocked her in the mud.
Other Words to Knock Out of Your Writing
- suddenly/all of a sudden
- again/once again/once more—if they don’t add something or clarify meaning, knock them out.
- thing/stuff—usually not sufficient; be more descriptive when possible.
- not—write affirmatively rather than negatively. (He left the party. vs. He didn’t stay at the party.)
- that—often a superfluous and unnecessary filler word. (Jasper didn’t admit that he had taken the last five cookies that Sylvia had baked. vs. Jasper didn’t admit he had taken the last five cookies Sylva had baked.)
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