October 14, 2015 | Posted in: Writing & Grammar Tips

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Words to Knock Out of Your Writing

Words to knock out and eliminate from 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
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
  • causing

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
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
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.

  • really
  • actually
  • very
  • totally
  • completely
  • very
  • so
  • easily
  • specifically
  • quite

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
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.

  • just
  • a little
  • quite
  • almost
  • nearly
  • probably
  • possibly
  • rather
  • only
  • fairly
  • indeed
  • somewhat
  • very
  • still

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
  • immediately
  • instantly
  • 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.)

15 Comments

  1. Tom
    October 14, 2015

    Leave a Reply

    As I continue with the ninth draft of my latest novel, I am already working hard to cut out dead sentences and words which have invited themselves.
    Do I intend to check for all these procrasti/quali/modi/lazy words in the next draft?
    I think I will Kelly … even if it adds another two or three days to the task.
    Thanks for another great post, and my one wish is that more ‘writers’ will read this.

    • Amor Libris (Kelly Hartigan)
      October 14, 2015

      Leave a Reply

      Thank you, Tom. I hope it doesn’t add two or three more days to your elf-editing tasks.

  2. WK Tucker
    October 14, 2015

    Leave a Reply

    A very helpful post, Kelly. I need to save this somewhere. 🙂
    Kathy

  3. Senan
    October 15, 2015

    Leave a Reply

    I just love these grammar blog posts of yours. Apparently, I use Idlers & qualifiers, and after reading this I understand why I should refrain from their use. However, there is always a ‘however’.
    For example : 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.
    I get it. I really do.
    However, in this example of yours, the meaning might be different if Mariah was the protagonist rather than just a character.
    The ‘probably’ might fit better, if Mariah was a secondry character being ‘observed’ by the protagonist. The protagonist does not really know for sure whether it is the hardest trial faced by Mariah. However, your amended sentence works perfectly when Mariah is the protagonist.
    That is why i still use qualifiers. Am I wrong to do so?

  4. Senan
    October 15, 2015

    Leave a Reply

    It was agreed; there were to be no exceptions, and the idlers would have to fall in line.
    With that said, there was an uncomfortable air settle over the room as Senan stood up for the idlers. However, the majority wanted him to shut up and sit down, and as the crowd grew increasingly hostile, Senan realised that he would have to go.

  5. Reese Speaks
    January 27, 2017

    Leave a Reply

    I am notorious for using a lot of these words and phrases. This is a great guide to use to remove these words from my writing. Procrastinators and idlers are the ones I use most.

  6. Renee
    January 27, 2017

    Leave a Reply

    I use a lot of these words all the time. I had no clue that I was using them so often though until I went back to look at some of my writing. Looks like I will have to rework some of these.

  7. Dan @ Making the Journey to Wealth
    January 27, 2017

    Leave a Reply

    What a great post. This is extremely helpful for me. I have a really big desire to wrote a book, but sometimes my lack of experience in writing holds me back. This gave me confidence. It will also help me writing my blog! Thanks!

  8. ghastlyvongore
    January 27, 2017

    Leave a Reply

    I am guilty of every one of these. I think I need to save this post as my wallpaper! This is so helpful to me. I have been working to try to make my writing stronger lately and this clarifies a number of things that stick out in my work. Thank you!

  9. Jodie
    January 28, 2017

    Leave a Reply

    Gets you thinking, and inspires me to write a story. Thank you! x

  10. Hey Sharonoox
    January 28, 2017

    Leave a Reply

    Guilty as a procrastinators! I use those words quite a bit. Time to revamp on my writing skills.

  11. Sandy N Vyjay
    January 29, 2017

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    Very useful pointers. As we write, words do tend to gatecrash. I think these are words to lookout for while editing and make the writing more crisper.

  12. Ana De-Jesus
    January 29, 2017

    Leave a Reply

    That was a great grammar lesson, especially about flat modifiers. We have all been guilty of using ‘lazy’ words x

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