Thursday, April 16, 2015

A to Z Challenge: N is for Nix Filler Words

Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.

N is for Nix Extra/Filler Words

I already talked about crutch words, but I want to talk about more specific words and phrases that writers tend to use in narrative and dialogue. 

General Rule: If the word isn't absolutely necessary for the sentence to make sense, cut it.

Words at the beginning of the sentence: Furthermore, nevertheless, especially, for a moment, suddenly, etc. 

These words can be cut 99% of the time without having the slightest impact on the meaning of the sentence. They are filler words. Get rid of them!

Words at end of sentence: 

1) Extra words following action 

Example: I walk toward her, firing anger. "Really!" (Firing anger is shown in the dialogue. It becomes filler following the action.)

2) Unnecessary prepositional phrases

He ran down the hill, across the meadow, through the tall grass and into the woods. (Unless every step of his journey is significant for some reason--and it might be--cut this down. You don't need sixteen prepositional phrases to describe action. Basic Rule: Stick to one or two things that will invoke vivid imagery and get the point across. Cut the rest. Reading every single detailed motion your character makes becomes boring really quickly.)

Other filler words: 

1) Too many adjectives 

Example: The ground crunched and squished beneath her feet. (Pick one adjective and stick to it. Otherwise, your readers are trying to imagine too many things and aren't getting a clear picture of the setting. If you want to use more than one adjective, you need to use two completely different sentences or clauses to show two different things or aspects of a thing being described. Basic Rule: One adjective per thing or aspect of thing.)

2) Unnecessary modifiers

Example: He attempted to run. (Just say, "He ran." To quote Yoda, "Do or do not. There is not try." If you attempt to, begin to, start to, manage to, or try to, it always makes your sentence weak. The only time this is okay is if your character tries to do something but can't, or starts to do something but is interrupted. Basic Rule: if there is no but, then just do it. Cut the extra modifiers.)

What filler words to you catch yourself using?


  1. Using excessive adjectives and adverbs and such can actually serve a very specific function, if you want your writing to sound a certain way. I love it when it's done for satirical or comedic effect, or when it's used to set the the personality of a particular character. Using long, flowery and often meandering sentences says a lot about a person or the tone of a book.

    That said, it's very hard to do this well, and doing it unconsciously does lead to sloppy and weak writing. I like being unnecessarily verbose on purpose, but when I do it by accident it usually sucks.

    1. Good point about using it to show character. I agree. If done on purpose, it can be very effective (because then it serves a purpose). Most writers don't do it on purpose, though. Either way, it's something to be aware of. And that's a good rule of thumb. Anything you do ought to be done on purpose. If it's not, cut it. :D Thanks for the discussion!

  2. Yes, I've had to learn how to cut out words. One of my most overused words was 'began'. I.e. 'He began to open the door' Then he walks through the door. I realized if he only began and then walked through he was walking through a partially opened door. Rereading some of my real old works I was horrified by this gem. "Erick walked out of his apartment the next morning and began taking his keys out of his pocket. He opened the car door and got in. Then he started it up and backed out, thinking about the day." Ugggggggghhhh!!! So boring and weak. Glad I went back and changed it. I think I changed it to something like, 'The next morning, Erick thought about his day while driving to his friends house.'

    1. You aren't the only one by far. Tons of writers do exactly that. And I feel ya about going back. When I sold my histfic trilogy to JFP, I had written and re-written book 1, and I didn't think much about book 2 until they asked for it. By the, it had been probably two years since I'd looked at it. Yeah, I was horrified by the writing. I think that's part of learning to write, though. Thanks for stopping by, Jeffrey! :D

  3. Crunched and squished!
    I remember a line from my second book read 'and he all but inhaled it.' One critique partner wrote 'No, go for it - he inhaled it!'

    1. Yup. Been there! You live, you write, you learn. :D

  4. It’s officially the second half of A to Z. Time to catch that second wind, rest up on Sunday, then it’s that mad dash toward the finish line!

    Stephen Tremp
    A to Z Cohost
    N is for Numerology