Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Word Zits

So... I've finally finished manuscript revisions in preparation to send to Awesome Agent.  (She'll determine if it's ready to go to Editors.  More on that another day).

Shining the spotlight on Word-Acne
The thing that surprised me in this (hopefully) final revision was how many of those blasted extraneous words were still pushing to the surface.  Their pustule-heads are painful even when I can't see the bump.

Know what I mean?

This revision has been six months in the making.  After feedback from prospective editors, I had a lot of work to do.  And I did it.  The world building, plot and character developments are nailed.  The writing is the best I can do.  This final, final review was all about the detail. I wasn't changing scenes, modifying plots or adding storylines.  I was just sitting at my keyboard hitting CTRL + F over and over and over again.

And what did I find? 

Word Acne.

The face of my manuscript looked like something out of a Clean & Clear ad.

After two years (almost to the day) of countless revisions, a full editorial from my agent, seek-and-destroy missions and various other forms of treatment, I was still breaking out.  To the tune of 2% of my already-borderline wordcount.


Why is that surprising?  Well, if you check out the Self-Editing Series I started last year, you'll find out I've been eradicating extra words for a long time.  And yet... *insert self-loathing here*.

So below, my friends, are my very own word-zits.  Some of them we covered in the Self-Editing Series, some we didn't. 

Maybe your idiom-eruptions are different.  But on the pizza-face of my manuscript, these words / phrases push to the surface again and again and again - usually proving to be as worthless as those blackhead remover t-zone stickies they sold me when I was twenty. 

Many of these verbal pimples could be deleted from my manuscript without changing a single surrounding word.  Some were just the oily residue raising a flag for the painful discharge lurking underneath.  Either way, doing a seek and destroy on these words dropped my wordcount by 2%.

Read that last sentence again, then read this list and figure out if you have similar manuscript blackheads:


Usually began with 'he', 'she', 'I', or a character name, followed by:

- swallowed
- sighed
- frowned
- breathed
- stared
- gaped
- tensed
- froze
- realized

In most cases, the action wasn't necessary because the emotion or reaction had already been demonstrated or could be indicated via dialogue.  In many cases the phrase or sentence could be deleted because it was coupled with another, more interesting action or reaction.


- all
- just
- actually
- really
- suddenly
- even
...Were often used to unnecessarily emphasize or nuance a sentence and could be deleted outright. 

- almost
- seemed / seemed to
...Should be used sparingly, and only for their true meanings - not to give the reader an impression of a false-start, or desire.  In fiction terms, things either happen or they don't.  The hero didn't 'almost touch' the heroine.  No.  He raised his hand, then thought better of it and dropped it again. 

- toward(s)
...Frequently cropped up after verbs.  The thing is, when one of my characters gets out of his seat and walks - immediately followed by dialogue with the protagonist - it's unnecessary for her to say he walked 'towards me'.  That part is implied. 

- myself
...Often indicated a wordy sentence.  For example, the very wordy: "Was she just being nice so she could trap me into getting myself caught out?", became: "Was she just being nice so she could trap me?"

So there you are.  Nineteen words that, when sought out, helped me eradicate 2% of my manuscript without losing a single nuance or expression.  In fact, cutting out all those words has made the manuscript better.  We'll see if Awesome Agent agrees.

Your Turn:  What do your word zits look like?


  1. Let's see, I have that, just, even, so, really, and there. And that's just off the top of my head! Whoops--stuck a just in there, didn't I?

    I do the control+F thing, too. It's the only way I can ever find them because my mind reads right through them.

  2. Awesome analogy, Aimee. And well done with cutting that 2%, your manuscript's skin must be positively glowing!

    I know Tangled is oozing with word zits at the moment. Once I get through the big picture edit, I can't wait to go back and pop those little suckers!

    On another topic, I saw you've added yourself to the list on Rach Writes beta swap. Pick me! Pick me! I won't have much time until about September, but if you're still looking for readers then, I'd love to read Dani's story (and get your thoughts on Tangled too!). Let me know what you think. :-)