Friday, June 13, 2014

Omit Needless Words

Yep. I'm still in the revision trenches and working hard to tighten up my manuscript.

Every time I come across a phrase like: "She did not listen to me." I cringe, because Strunk and White's words pop into my head:

Omit needless words.

Sounds so simple.

And yet, I forget it so often. I'm a rambler, and I like to use a lot of words, but when writing a manuscript ... a lot of unnecessary words does not make it better!

She did not listen to me. = She ignored me.

That cuts the word count in half! That's just one sentence. Imagine how much tighter you could make the entire manuscript!

Here are some more examples:
Do not forget = Remember
A guy thumped his fingers against the microphone. = A guy thumped the microphone.
She put her hands on my shoulders. = She grabbed my shoulders.
He pointed his finger at me. = He pointed at me.
He snapped his fingers. = He snapped.

I'm not telling you to write only two and three word sentences, but I am telling (suggesting and kindly encouraging) you to omit needless words. Cut out the words, phrases, and scenes that readers skip or skim over. Make your manuscript as tight as possible.

Are you writing this weekend? Going camping? Me? I'll be revising.


  1. Hi, Margo. Omitting needless words does sound so simple, but when it comes to doing it, well that's another story. No writing this weekend. I didn't do any writing while on my blogging hiatus and I'm finding it hard to get back in the swing of things. Have a great weekend!

    1. I think it was Stephen King who said that the first fifteen minutes are the hardest. Just stick your butt in the chair and start writing something. :) ... Of course I say that with all the love in my heart!

  2. Omitting needless words is good advice. The trick is to make sure they are truly needless, and that the sentence still says what you mean it to say.

    The "pointed" example is good, because I would assume the use of a finger so the word is needless. Also consider whether or not what he pointed with is actually important. And "She grabbed my shoulders" is great if grabbing is what you envisaged, but I didn't actually get that from the first version. I pictured a comforting action of laying hands on shoulders. If that's the case, then it's difficult to shorten while still conveying the intended meaning.

    Another time to be wary of shortening is in dialogue. I think someone is far more likely to say "She didn't listen to me" than "She ignored me" so the former would sound more convincing dialogue IMO.

    As always in writing, advice is best applied with care and with open eyes.

    1. Thank you for this wonderful comment! I found this to be very true as I've been revising this week. Careful word selection is just as important as omitting needless words. We need to make each word count and be specific in meaning. And certain things do not work in dialogue! ... Thanks for stopping by!

  3. This is good advice.
    I find that writing flash fiction is a good way to practise lean, tight writing. You only have a limited number of words to write with, so you have to make every word count.
    Writer In Transit

  4. More awesome advice! Oh, wait, we're omitting needless words. I'll just go with "Awesome." :)