Updated: Jul 11
We all dream of creating smooth, compelling prose that draws readers to our pages and keeps them there until the final word, and brevity and economical language
play at important role in achieving this.
Readers often switch off when confronted with sprawling, wordy sentences that use hundreds of words when just a few are needed. Concise, neatly trimmed text is often the strongest, the punchiest and the paciest.
Whatever your writing style, whether long, lyrical and descriptive, or brief and snappy, taking a self-editing pass through your manuscript and removing unneeded words and phrases will have a positive impact on its flow and readability. I’ve already done this several times in this tiny blog post and could probably keep doing it if I had the time!
Don’t know where to start? Here are the top five redundant words and phrases I most commonly see when editing client manuscripts (and my own).
1) At this point / at that moment
The reader already knows it’s at that point because that’s the moment they are being shown. This phrase adds nothing new, which means it slows the pace down and gets in the way of the interesting stuff (technical term!) At this point, she rushed to the door, and She rushed to the door, both tell us the same thing, but the second one is faster and won’t hold your reader up.
Sometimes ‘that’ is needed, so removing every use of it is not recommended, but when the sentence is clear without it, let loose on that delete button. The ‘that’ was essential in my previous line but removing it from sentences such as, she told me ‘that’ I didn’t need to use so many redundant words, and turning it into, she told me I didn’t need to use so many redundant words, makes it smoother to read and listen to.
3) It was green in colour / a pink-coloured hat
The itself speaks for itself, so adding ‘colour’ doesn’t make it any clearer.
4) Large-sized / small in size
The ‘large’ or ‘small’ has already made the size clear, so adding ‘size’ is unnecessary and overexplains—and overexplaining leads to yawning, which leads to stretching and then maybe even closing the book. And no one wants that for their readers.
5) Very / really
Sentences are almost always stronger without these two words. The reader is unlikely to believe the sentiment any more just because of the addition of a very or a really.
It was very hot, would usually be interpreted the same as it was hot. And I really hate redundant phrases, doesn’t have any more impact that I hate redundant phrases.
As with all writing advice, or even so-called writing ‘rules’, for fiction, there may be times when any or all of the above phases and words might be effective way to convey style, so it’s not that they should never be used, but that the majority of them could be discarded and sent to the naughty step, covered in red ink.
Happy writing and editing from all the team at Fervent Ink (me and my dog).