Magical Words: Cutting Out the Filler

Photo by Charles Chen on Unsplash

When writers go back and review their old works, it can be a humbling experience. David B. Coe worked on a re-release of his first series where he found over 20,000 words just taking up print space in his books. Filler that didn’t add anything to the story. He broke them up into the following groups:

  1. Passive and distancing constructions
  2. Adverbs
  3. Weakening words
  4. Beginning and starts.

From reading the May 31, 2016 Magical Word post, “Cutting Out the Filler”, you will discover what things needed to go based on these groups. Remember to bring the same scalpel to your writing.

  1. Passive – Remove copulas (I have mentioned this in other posts).
  2. Distancing constructions

Distancing constructions come in several forms. Any time we use “could” we are possbily adding extra words. And often using “saw” or “felt” or “heard” injects unnecessary words into the perceptions of your point of view character. For example:  “He could hear a horseman approaching” is wordier than “He heard a horseman approaching,” which is wordier than “A horseman approached.” And since we’re in the POV of our narrator, we KNOW that she has heard this.

I’m oversimplifying a bit, of course. Yes, it’s possible that your POV character divined this magically, or saw rising dust — perhaps we need some sensory input. “Hoofbeats shook the ground. A horseman approached.” Now we’re using more words. But we’re saying more as well. We’re showing rather than telling. My larger point stands: eliminate distancing constructions from your writing. Even if this doesn’t save you words in the long run (though trust me, it will) doing so will improve your writing.

3. Adverbs – No need to remove them all; they add beauty and clarity. But are they necessary. Mr. Coe mentions fixing items like “He glanced briefly.” noting that a glance is always brief.

4. Weakening – Drop the waffling words. I (Erin) constantly have to slash out “a lot” or “a bit”, “slightly” and “nearly”. “Tend” keeps getting killed and resurrecting. Sometimes a statement needs to be soften, but usually our storytelling needs stronger stuff.

5. Beginnings and starts – I’ve talked about this a lot before. I hate these for the action genres like thrillers and urban fantasies. “He began to think on things.” “She started to run.” … “He thought on things.” “She ran.” Unless the act of beginning is important, these need killing too.

The URL is: (It may no longer be available. After nearly a decade, Magical Words website has been taken down.

3 thoughts to “Magical Words: Cutting Out the Filler”

    1. Do a search on my editing rants – many of them could be useful to you. I also have a few up on my vlog on youtube is you prefer the video version.

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