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Cutting Words – Revising



I’m working on a revision–which is to say I’m a breathing, working writer. Revision is the other side of writing.  I spend more time revising than actually writing. Something always needs revision and, if you’re prolific, maybe several things need revision all at once.

As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve started to notice words that show up for a cameo in everything I write–as well as I’ve noticed things that just need to be cut or noted in revision. So, when I do a read-through, I don’t need to do anything other than highlight the word to know what needs to be done with it.  For my revisions, there are three types of word annihilation.

1. Favorite, repetitive words/phrases (Killing those darlings)

  • that
  • probably
  • just
  • very
  • all
  • well
  • sighed
  • smiled
  • laughed
  • stared
  • look/looked
  • rolled his/her eyes
  • raised his/her eyebrows
  • bit his/her lip (these emotion physical action tags just need to be used in moderation)
  • moment/a moment later/in a moment/after a moment
  • minute
  • second
  • then
  • suddenly
  • finally
  • though
  • maybe
  • seemed (this one is annoying–it’s so wishy-washy)
  • turned
  • slid (I overuse this word for lack of a better word as a verb)
  • back
  • on, at, up, by, for (sometimes I’ll have three of these prepositions in a single sentence.)
  • always
  • like
  • still
  • even
  • large/big/huge
  • small/tiny/little
  • pretty (this isn’t to describe a person–this would be like: it was pretty dark. It was pretty amazing.)
  • actually
  • definitely
  • sometimes
  • usually
  • generally
  • in fact
  • close (as in near)
  • tight/tightly


Then, I also look for a few words I’m inconsistent on or using the wrong one: grey/gray, toward/towards, and blond/blonde. I tend to prefer the British English version every time, but I often cave to the American English–but it should at least be consistent.

I also double-check my use of: then/than, effect/affect, and so on.

Hopefully, I catch homophone issues, but they’re tricky little devils. I had a where/wear mix-up in the manuscript I’m revising today. It was funny. I laughed. I’m easily amused.

This is when I note repetitive words within a paragraph or repetitive sentence structure. How many times have I used “skin” in that sentence or “arm”? Do too many sentences in a row/paragraph start with a pronoun or with a prepositional phrase or whatever?


2. The second wave of word devastation is passive voice, adverbs, questions, unnecessary qualifiers, and dialogue tags. 

The sentence:

“That’s not fair,” she said slowly. She was shaking her head.


“That’s not fair.” She shook her head. (Or it gets cut because that’s a dumb sounding sentence. Hey! It’s hard to come up with examples on the fly.)

Any sentence using the word “was” gets scrutinized to see if I can shift it from passive to active by dropping it to just the verb.

I also take any qualifiers of feelings and actions out. I noted “seemed” above and that’s a big one.

There’s also:

  • almost
  • nearly
  • sort of
  • as if
  • might
  • a little
  • about
  • near
  • close to

If I’m making notes for myself, I’ve been known to add: Commit! (usually with profanity for emphasis because that’s how I roll.) Why use “seemed” when you can drop it for more impact? Also, it can be a sign that you’re getting a bit passive.

For example:

He seemed afraid. If you shift it from a qualifier it becomes: He was afraid…which your character may not know and sounds weak. You could use actions instead to describe it: His eyes widened, and his hands shook. (Hey! Look! He seems afraid!)

Adverbs usually get absorbed into the verbs themselves or into physical beats…or they get cut. Does the reader need to know precisely how fast someone walked? Do they care if the person is speaking slowly? Toast those adverbs–unless you genuinely need them…in which case: Screw King and keep the adverbs. Yes, that’s right, I said it. Rules were made to be broken and sometimes adverbs are just what you need.

Dialogue tags are swapped out with action tags wherever possible. I also watch out for using the more prominent dialogue tags as opposed to “said” or “asked,” but it’s unusual for me to get all cute and creative with dialogue tags. Typically the only time I get away from the invisible word tags is for “whispered” or “shouted.”

I also watch the number of rhetorical questions or internal monologue questions so I don’t overdo it and my characters start sounding like Jeopardy contestants. What does he think of me? Does he think I’m thinking about him right now? If he does, does he know what I know about what he knows? What is the river Styx, Alex? (We meet again, Trebek!)


3. The last word tussle that I see with each revision is shallow point-of-view markers and blocking. I write in third person deep generally, so there are some words I shouldn’t be using. I should drop them or change the sentence/paragraph. 

In third deep you’d never say something like:

He saw her smile and thought it was beautiful.

It’d switch to:

She smiled. Her smile was perfect and beautiful and his heart beat faster every time she did it. (Only less goofy-sounding. I’m really rocking the examples today.)

There are a few words like “thought” which tip me off to shallow POV.

  • thought
  • believed
  • felt
  • saw
  • heard
  • noticed
  • hoped
  • knew (though this is clearly only in certain scenarios)
  • wondered
  • considered
  • reminded
  • remembered
  • smelled


There are lots of others, but when you’re describing your viewpoint character’s reactions as opposed to jumping in their heads and just saying what they’re noticing about the world around them–it needs to hit the chopping block in deep POV.

Blocking is when you describe every little action a character makes whether a reader cares or not–whether it matters or not.

For example, I read in a book:

She went to the trash can and threw away her empty water bottle.

First of all, the lack of recycling appalled me, and I put down the book and declared it a Did-Not-Finish on the spot. Admittedly, it wasn’t just the lack of recycling but the constant blocking of movements. Characters were walking from place to place, taking showers every few minutes, drinking water (yay for hydration) and then throwing away trash–or things that shouldn’t be trash. (Grr.) Every action was described.

I’m sure there are people with weird fetishes who would like to know when a person puts on their shoes, but catering to freaks isn’t the goal. Generally. Okay, sometimes I cater to freaks, but the point is that blocking gets tedious. If a reader isn’t going to notice if you omit it, then ditch it. Readers will assume or not assume that when a character gets dressed they are putting on everything. They will assume that a character is eating and drinking sporadically and not about to fall over dehydrated if there aren’t extenuating circumstances. (If your character is in the middle of the desert…water consumption is obviously not blocking.)

One exception to blocking in contemporary romance books, though: you should toss them in the shower occasionally. Truly. On some level, readers pick up on this, and it becomes less sexy if your characters get a subtle reek to them.

Blocking is similar to over-explaining things–it implies your reader needs their hand held to visualize a scene…and they really don’t–unless you’re doing a crappy job. Readers are smart and will usually fill out your world with enough to go on.


Anyway, so those are my word-depth revisions I generally run through…and then my editors slaughter it and take it to a whole other level, but I manage this revision on my own. What words would you add to the lists? What’s your favorite word that you overuse? 

12 Responses so far.

  1. Jaime (Spider-Jaime) says:

    I pretty much use it all the time. It is a pretty awesome word, and I am pretty good at using it , but it is probably pretty distracting if someone were to use it pretty much every other word. They would sound pretty idiotic! That’s pretty much it.

    • In real life, I use ‘pretty’ constantly and it’s one of those things you catch in writing and think, “Whoa! I only use like four words to make sentences when I’m talking.”

      It’s also where dialogue on paper and real life dialogue diverge. If writers wrote how people genuinely speak…it would be horrifying. Every other word would be “like.”

  2. Whipped. As an action. aka “His head whipped around.”

    That. (take about 95% of my usage out on first edit pass)

  3. Well. And the characters name when starting a new paragraph.

  4. How on earth was “well” not on the list? Well, it is now! Thanks! ; )

  5. […] Anyway, so this is another revision week. If you missed last week’s post on cutting words–that’s what I’m doing still and you should go check that out and commiserate. Cutting Words. […]

  6. […] Anyway, so this is another revision week. If you missed last week’s post on cutting words–that’s what I’m doing still and you should go check that out and commiserate. Cutting Words. […]

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