Thursday, 10 October 2013

Unnecessary words

I know most of Rachelle Gardner’s  tips for shortening a manuscript off by heart but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to refresh the memory and keep the advice on record here.
As she says, if you cut 12 words per page in a 350-page manuscript, you have shortened it by 4,200 (unnecessary) words. Another method I heard recently was to cut 2 lines per page. In a 300 page novel that’s probably around 6,000 words.

Rachelle offers a checklist to consider:

  •  Adverbs, especially those with “ly” endings. Ask yourself if they’re necessary.
  • Adjectives. Often people use two or three when one (or none) is better.
  • Gerunds. Words that end in “ing.”
  • Passive voice: Over-use of words like “was,” “were” and “that” indicate your writing may be too passive. Reconstruct in active voice.
  • Redundancy in words or ideas. Don’t say something twice that the reader only needs once.
  • Passages that are overly descriptive.
  • Passages that describe characters’ thoughts and feelings in too much detail (i.e. long sections of narrative or interior monologue).
  • Passages that tell the reader what they already know.
  • Passages that use a lot of words to “tell” the reader something that should be “shown”
  • Unnecessary backstory.

She also offers a list of words that may not be truly effective:
about, actually, almost, like, appears, approximately, basically, close to, even, eventually, exactly, finally, just, just then, kind of, nearly, practically, really, seems, simply, somehow, somewhat, sort of, suddenly, that, truly, utterly, were.
The Search and Replace function makes this easier than it sounds, and the manuscript will be the better for it.

She also has an interesting rant about the Brave New World of Publishing on her blog 22nd September. Read it with a wry grin! (

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