Self-Editing Tips and Tricks. Cut these words from your manuscript!

We all hate revising but it is a chore that has to be done before a book can be published. One of the spot checks I do at the very end of my revision phase is to seek and destroy bloat words, lazy modifiers, extraneous dialogue tags, and unnecessary filter words.

These are the words we toss in that have no real need to be in the sentence. Sometimes they are redundant, sometimes they are vague modifiers, and the majority of the time, when you delete them, the sentence doesn’t change at all.

Rule of thumb: If the sentence still makes sense without these words, remove them!

Let’s look at some of the biggest offenders…

What To Do: Delete!

You don’t really need this word. I doesn’t really add to the sentence.
You don’t need this word. It doesn’t add to the sentence.

Other than in dialogue, cut all uses of this word. It is a bloat word and, like very (see below), is also a lazy modifier that can be deleted without changing the sentence structure or meaning.
What To Do: Delete!

She just wanted to check on her son.
She wanted to check on her son.

If they could just get there in time….
If they could get there in time….

This is a sequencing word, but unless you need to specify a secret plan, there is no need to sequence events in a story. This is because your reader is experiencing the sequence as they read it.
What To Do: Delete!

He threw a punch and then ducked…
He threw a punch and ducked.

SUDDEN (suddenly)
You remove all the drama when you spoon-feed your readers. If something is suddenly happening, it is happening in real time in the story, readers will know this event is sudden. Telling them this takes away the impact of this new development.
What To Do: Delete!

START (started, starting) BEGIN (began, begun, beginning)
Again, things are happening for your reader in real time. If something is happening, no need to outline that it has started. It is happening.
What To Do: Delete!

The boy started to cry.
The boy cried.

You can save words by trying just a little bit harder to come up with a better word.

Very is a lazy modifier. Use a stronger word and you won’t need very.
What To Do: Find A Stronger Word!

Are you very happy to be here?
Are you elated (ecstatic or joyful) to be here?

I am very annoyed with you right now.
I am aggravated with you right now.

These are redundant movement words. We know if you are sitting, you are down. Same applies if you are standing. We know you are up. No need to add the extra modifier unless you are in an upside down world where things are not as they seem.
What To Do: Delete!

If two characters are having a conversation, you may be tempted to tag each one’s speech. He said, she said, and so on… But when the conversation is flowing naturally, there is no need to specify so frequently when each one is talking. Yes, some tags are needed to maintain the flow after a few back and forth exchanges, but you do not have to tag each line. That can cut a lot of extra words.

Also, keep in mind that not all dialogue needs to be tagged. If your characters are actively moving through a scene, you can insert their dialogue into the action creating natural beats that do not require specific tagging.

“I want you to pay attention to the flow of dialogue here,” Mrs. Salidas said to the class. “Can anyone here tell me who is speaking?”
Jason lifted his hand. “You are!”
“Very good. Two points for you. What you just showed us was how action can replace a dialogue tag in two-person conversations.”
“But what happens when there are more than two people speaking?”
“When more than two people are speaking it becomes necessary to tag each line of dialogue with either an action beat, or using a said tag for that character, but as long as it is just you and I in this conversation, and the flow is not interrupted, we can avoid overusing tags.”
“Wow! Thanks for that tip!”

You see here how each line flows once the speaker is established? Not every line needs that tag. Cutting the excess can help you save words.

What To Do: Trim Out Excess Tags!

These take us out of actually experiencing what the POV character is experiencing, by telling us what we should be experiencing.

Think (thought, thinking)
Feel (felt, feeling)
Hear (heard, hearing)
Look (looked, looking)
Know (knew, knowing)

What To Do: Restructure Sentences!

She felt the cold breeze.
Cold air danced across her skin.

She thought she saw something.
Something dark and shadowy streaked across the edge of her vision.

She heard the sound of footsteps approaching.
The staccato clip-clop of Nancy’s high-heeled shoes announced her presence.

This is not the end-all-be-all list for editing out words, but using what you have here will get you a leg up on your next round of revisions. Happy editing.

For more Self-Editing Tips, check out these other articles:

Avoiding Echoes In Your Manuscript -

Is your Manuscript ready to be Published? -

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About The Author

Katie Salidas is a USA Today bestselling author and RONE award winner known for her unique genre-blending style.

Since 2010 she's penned five bestselling book series: the Immortalis, Olde Town Pack, Little Werewolf, Chronicles of the Uprising, and the all-new Agents of A.S.S.E.T. series. As her not-so-secret alter ego, Rozlyn Sparks, she is a USA Today bestselling author of romance with a naughty side.

In her spare time Katie also produces and hosts a YouTube talk show; Spilling Ink. She also has a regular column on First Comics News where she explores writing from a nerdy perspective.