Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Very a bit (and other things I deleted from my WIP)

You know that last edit, right before you declare yourself done? The one where you polish all the words to a high shine and make sure everything is as pretty as can be?

Well, I'm talking about the one after that.

This is the one where you do a search through your document and delete the pesky words and phrases you know you overuse--even when you edit.
For example, I saw this tip on The Passive Voice a few weeks back:

“Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be” --Mark Twain

Do you use "very" too often? Have you checked?

Recurrences of "very" before: 77
Recurrences of "very" after: 37

Wahoo! I got rid of 40! That's over half! Let's try another:

Recurrences of "a bit" before: 60
Recurrences of "a bit" after: 10

50!! See? It can be done!

After much thought, I've figured that "very" and "a bit" are my wishy-washy words. For when I don't want to just come out and say something. When I want to soften the blow, I use "a bit" to indicate that it wasn't that bad. "Very," of course, for when I can't be bothered to show how bad it was by the context of the scene.

What's strange (well, probably not very strange) is that Mr. Clements was correct: most of the time, you really can just delete those sorts of words from the sentence. No additional alteration required.

Then, when you really want to use one, your reader isn't jaded by them. They understand that, this time, he really is a bit more angry than last time. 

Works with swear words, too--but my numbers there aren't as impressive.

Which words and phrases do you use too much?


  1. Great post. My teachers have taught me to avoid adverbs. That was my crutch and the sentences were always better without them.

  2. One stage of my revisions is always to go through and eliminate all those crutch words. And man, I use a lot lol. ('just' is another big one)

  3. Great. Too more words I need to check out. I noticed with my last read that I use the word "considered" a lot. Ugh.

  4. "Turned" and "looked" seem to be my main bugbears. What I did with my last WIP is I made notes of the words I seemed to be over-using so that when I (someday) get around to doing the edits, I can take a closer look at just how many times I've used those specific words and then look at substitutions/eliminations if needs be.

  5. I keep discovering the word "offered" in my second read-through. My characters are a sharing, caring bunch :P

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  7. I'm constantly plagued by "that" and "was." Unfortunately I can't just delete was. I have to rewrite the whole sentence. Great post!

  8. I have a bit of a fondness for swear words too! :)

  9. Helpful tips! I am going to do a search and destroy mission later.

  10. "Just" is my Achilles heel. Revisions always require a search, find and delete of this one.

  11. Ooh, I should go through and search for all my occurrences of "very" and "a bit." I think I tend to overuse them too.

  12. I have overused 'some' and 'totally.' This post has me jazzed to do a find in my MS for more of those those pesky repeats. :)

  13. Boy I've been slacking on responding to comments! Sorry everyone! I've been reading them all, I swear!

    Josh--I think EVERYONE struggles with adverbs

    Lori--Just, too? Man....

    Donna--I don't think my characters consider much...but I should probably check

    Crystal--and how, exactly, are we supposed to say those things differently, I ask you? :)

    Miss Cole--Will your characters offer to edit for me?

    Angie--Stupid passive voice. WHY can't it just fix itself, huh?

    Jessie--it's not that I'm fond of swear words, but there seemed to be a lot of times when my characters really wanted to use hell and damn.

    Jenny--search and destroy is right. Good thing it really doesn't take that long.

    Tina--just is a wonderful word. :)

    Kristin--yay! A kindred spirit! Wait--you'll soon notice that you use them when you talk, too. :)

    Melodie--you must be writing YA. :) Glad I could be inspiring. :)

    Great words [to eliminate], everyone!

  14. Trimming for those little things are so important, but tightening prose is like flexing a different writing muscle.

    I finally made it to your site from the campaign. Now following your blog and you on Twitter :).

  15. I took out almost every unnecessary "that". In my early drafts, I used "rather" quite a bit. Those are almost all gone, as well.

    I loved this line you wrote...

    "You know that last edit, right before you declare yourself done? The one where you polish all the words to a high shine and make sure everything is as pretty as can be?

    Well, I'm talking about the one after that."

    That's too funny and it's so true. I can't tell you how many times I reread and revised and edited and thought I was done. Then I did it all over again. Ad nauseum! The last time, I removed every passive verb and made sure every sentence was exceptionally tight. That was nearly a month ago. Now I think I'm really ready.

    (I missed reading your blog while I was on hiatus. So glad I'm back!)

  16. Isis--seriously! It's like there's a skill you use for the first draft, another you use for the substantive edits, and a completely different one for the line edit. Why we gotta know so much just to write stories? :) Oh, yeah.

    Nancy--that's rather disturbing. :) Actually, I'm very disturbed by the number of words I DIDN'T search and destroy. Bother. Glad you're back!

  17. Fellow campaigner here! And fantastic post!

    My crutch word is "turned". My characters always seem to be turning around. 9.75 times out of 10 it's completely unnecessary.

    Looking forward to reading more posts, btw!

  18. My editor sent me hate mail for writing "Pretty sure" over a million and a half times. Dang it!

  19. Lose 10--I'm pretty sure your should be able to say "pretty sure" as much as you like. Don't they want realistic speech? :)

  20. I love that quote, and it's so true! For me it's "almost" and "just." I mean, seriously.

  21. Elana--"almost" and "just" seem a lot like "a bit". Maybe I can use those words instead.... :)

  22. Great post! Sometimes I find myself over using certain "physical tags" and go back through to get them filed down. I also am a victim of the "very" virus. Heh. ;)

  23. Anita--"The 'very' virus." Hahahaha!

  24. Does anyone know of a good tool or way in word to do frequency analysis to help you find your common words or phrases?

  25. Eric--the way I figure out frequency is to use the find-and-replace feature in Word:

    -Find what: "very"
    -Replace with: "very" [be careful to replace with the exact same word]
    -Replace All

    That will return a number, so you can know how many "very"s you have. Then you can do a simple Find (Control+F) to seek out each one and see how many you can eliminate.

  26. For me it's not any particular word--though I'm as guilty as the next author when it comes to overusing "very". I overuse a sentence structure for which I have no particular name, but I'll give you an example:

    They crowded together in one corner of the stone room, murmuring the way people do when death is near and the fate of worlds teeters on a precipice.

    See that -ing word in the middle (murmuring in this case). There's nothing particularly wrong with the structure, I like it...too much. I use it so often I have to revise paragraph after paragraph to keep its occurrence down to just a few percent rather than something bordering on ninety.

    -- david j.