Updated: Aug 10
Unnecessary words. What does this mean? Words that make your work cumbersome. Disrupt the flow of the language. Get in the way of the story. I’ve heard one writer call them “weasel words.” So what are these unnecessary words? Let me give you a brief list:
anything ending with -ly
“but” or “and” at the beginning of a sentence
There are others, but this gives you an idea of what to look for in your own work. Here is an example of why these words are better off being left out of your work.
So many times Lindsey felt she just had to call her friends to tell them that she and her boyfriend had another fight. And each time her friends would say something like, “Well, why don’t you break up with him if you’re so unhappy, then?”
Taking out the Unnecessary Words:
Many times Lindsey felt she had to call her friends to tell them she and her boyfriend had another fight. Each time her friends would say something like, “Why don’t you break up with him if you’re so unhappy?”
Words taken out: so, just, that, and, well, then
To tighten further, revise by moving words around and rephrasing:
Lindsey called her friends every time she and her boyfriend fought. Exasperated, they’d say, “If you’re not happy, break up with him.”
See how much I’ve shortened the sentence? It’s much cleaner, much easier to read. Sometimes words can be cumbersome. Start by finding weasel words that can be removed. Then (and I’m aware I’m using the word “then,” sometimes it’s a necessary word) see if you can reword the sentence to make it feel more polished and readable.
Take your work sentence by sentence. Use the “Find” tool to discover which of these weasel words you have developed a fondness for (mine are “just” and “though.”) If it’s a word that can be removed without making the sentence confusing, then do so. And another tip? When someone talks, they might use weasel words. A lot. You can get away with it in dialogue. Though make sure the character isn’t using it so often it drives the reader bonkers to “listen” to them.
If you have an unnecessary word you love to use, let me know. Perhaps we can form a longer list.