Unnecessary Words

How does a writer make their writing more dynamic? This is the question every writer wants an answer to…. at least if they want strong writing.

So let’s define the type of writing I’m talking about. I’m not talking about dialog – conversations have their own quirks and breaking the rules is acceptable if it’s purpWoseful. I’m also not talking about academic or formal writing. Fiction writing is different from all those other types of writing.

In fiction writing, we use words which aren’t needed. Are they added to pad the number of words? I think they’re added because it’s easier to write using them. Here are a few of them:


Often we use this in place of other words like who or which. The way to know which word to use is by looking at the clause (huh? what comes after it) it’s attached to. The bike, which is red, has a flat tire. Should which be that? It depends. If there are multiple bikes and the color defines the bike you refer to, you use ‘that’ and there would be no commas. If the color is just additional information, you use which and commas.

When it comes to who, who is used when people are involved. That can refer to people, animals, groups, or things. If people are involved you use who. Now this is English so it’s messed up – when it comes to groups you use either who or that.

There are times when you don’t need that but it’s put in because it “sounds” better. Most often the ‘that’ is not needed. Here’s two examples from Owl Purdue

Wordy: I received your inquiry that you wrote about tennis rackets yesterday, and read it thoroughly. Yes, we do have. . .

Concise: I received your inquiry about tennis rackets yesterday. Yes, we do have. . .

I’ve done a lot of editing and most authors overuse the word ‘that’. Part of the reason for it is because we use it speaking.

Passive voice vs Active voice

I know I’ve talked about this before but here’s a quick review of the topic. Passive voice slows down your pace and is an indirect way of describing something

Passive Voice

The boy was bitten by the dog

Active Voice

The dog bit the boy

In the passive voice sentence the verb includes a be verb (am is are was were are been – per Perdue Owl.

Now in an action scene passive voice slows down the action.

Passive – The boy was chased by the dog he teased.

Active – The dog chased the boy who teased him.

Overused words

Now you can google and see which words the powers that be say are overused. But slow down your reading of the book and analyze what you overuse. That is one for almost every author. But there are others.

In my early writing everything was done quickly. Apparently my characters did all their action fast. I’ve found other words and also stopped making my characters rush.

But I have a list of words I know I overuse.

How do I eradicate them? I search for each one and highlight them. When I do my read throughs, I look at each highlight and try to get rid of it – especially when there’s a paragraph full of them.

Now I never get rid of all these words – and I don’t want to. Sometimes passive voice is good, sometimes you need That or other words like it. The point is to look at these things and see if the alternate is stronger than what you have.

Recurring Words

There are words which have very little function in our language but we use them a lot – or at least I seem to.  I just finished editing a manuscript of mine and discovered several I should not be allowed to use.

Well, so, then, now, are all words that I should ban from my writing.  I seem to use them a lot in dialogue.  I also don’t like to use contractions.  When writing dialogue, it is easy to forget that we don’t talk as formally as we write.  We also tend to not speak in full sentences.  This means contractions, fragments, and all the things your teachers tell you not to do – you usually end up doing. 

At one point, I looked at my edits and realized they were all words like “well, so, then, etc”.  These are filler words really – like say “uh” when you are giving a speech.  Of course I had to take them all out.  I hope I got them all.  I might have to do a search just to make sure. 

The problem with having these words in there is they don’t sound like real conversation.  Unless of course your person says “Soooo…” a lot. 

As for contractions – in formal writing almost never use them.  In dialogue though we all talk in contractions and not always the ones we commonly use like can’t or won’t.  There are contractions like “Go get ’em” or “Whacha doin?”  All of these are things I look at when I’m doing editing because my tendency is to write the more formal usage – “Go get them”.  It isn’t wrong but it makes the character different from the person who would speak more casually. 

One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve been given for writing dialogue is to read it out loud.  People may think you are strange but it helps with the way you think a person will talk naturally.

When I’m done with a manuscript, I guess I’ll have to make a point of searching out these words I use repetitively.  It is one very important step in my editing process when I’ve finished a manuscript.