Revisions: Flow Killers – Filler Words and Repetition

Thesaurus cartoon

Are you struggling with revisions, not understanding what needs expanding, and what needs cutting?

Let’s start with filler and repetitive words.

Some say you need to cut out filler words, adverbs, all passive voice, and cut down on descriptions…well…yes and no. It all depends on your voice, what your story line might dictate and frankly, it depends on what your characters have to say.

Yes, your characters. Don’t kid yourself that your characters don’t have complete control over everything you do when writing their story.

Filler words such as that, just, very, much, really, completely, totally, somehow, somewhat, basically, literally, absolutely, rather, up/down (as in stood up or sat down),  so (as in so fast), both (as in we both stood), and own (as in she gazed at her own reflection) can be used but it all depends on your voice. As with any word, phrase or descriptive adjective, too much of anything can become less than a good thing. I don’t advise cutting all filler words but instead read the line through and think of a tighter, more exact way of saying it. Yes—exact! Only you know what you want to say so push the limit until you are saying exactly what you wish to say.

For example, in the lines I used to explore expansion and layering: (see Part One post)

Angry and feeling as though if he didn’t leave immediately, he was going to hit someone, John stalked to the door, threw it open, and despite the pouring rain, marched into the street.

Rather than using the filler word though, I tightened the line down by removing the word and using a comma after Angry:

Angry, and feeling as if he didn’t leave right away he was going to hit someone, John stalked to the door, threw it open so wide driving rain sprayed him and the foyer floor. He marched into street without looking back. He knew he’d never return.

Tighter, and more expressive, it shows the event more than tells it—our main goal as writers of fiction.

If you find yourself using one particular filler word a lot, or any word/phrase for that matter, it might be time to rethink the use of the word. Whereas the use of a word such as that or like is common in everyday language and so is fine for your characters to use, they can begin to act like roadblocks to a reader’s attention. I’m not saying these words can’t be used…on the contrary, sometimes it just can’t be said another way without changing your voice but when certain words occur in every sentence, it’s time to rethink your vocabulary. The use of a good thesaurus or online thesaurus can be invaluable.

Repetition can be a flow killer. It can be anything from using the same word to describe a movement, a body part, or even an emotion…remember to shake things up…keep it fresh.

Remember, it’s all about flow. Keeping the action moving is important, but if the flow is awkward and the reader’s eye has to stumble over rocks in the form of repetitive words then eventually the reader is going to quit. Good writing makes reading effortless, and you a success.

When you’re ready for editing, talk to me about how I can assist you in finding that success.

Come back next time to continue learning how to turn your manuscript into something worth reading.

Happy Writing Everyone!


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