Improve Your Book with this One Simple Skill
Your ideal reader is busy. She doesn't have time to read all the novels on her Goodreads list. She pulls a book out when she's not distracted during the carpool line or if she's not too tired at the end of a long day.
And, like the rest of society, she also has a limited attention span. A book has to hook her within eight seconds or she's moving on.
What's a writer to do? How do you compete with the complexities of life, a raging long to do list, and an attention span the same length as a goldfish?
Write clear, engaging words.
You might be thinking, Cool. Thanks, Mikaela. That's not super helpful. How do I do that? Writing is hard.
You're right. Writing is complex, emotional, and subjective. But here's the good news. Writing can be taught. After tucking away a few helpful skills, you CAN write an engaging book that will move your readers.
And one of those all-important skills is as simple as hitting "Find" in Microsoft Word.
Flabby Words Kill
Nothing turns readers off faster than flabby, unclear sentences. Time is precious, and no one has enough of it to spend on meandering sentences that go nowhere.
Tight, clear sentences is one of those important skills of a successful writer. And the biggest hindrance to a tight sentence are sneaky filler words. They are like preservatives in junk food. Just like potato chips, they leave the reader feeling unsatisfied and sluggish. Sharp, crisp sentences spur your reader onto the next and the next until she realizes it's 3 AM and she can't put your book down.
And you're in luck because eliminating flabby words is as easy as scanning through your manuscript to catch the culprits. Below are 35 of the most common filler words to avoid. If you search for all of these in your manuscript and either delete or rework them, you're well on your way to an unforgettable and unputdownable manuscript.
I just don't think he knew what he was doing. --> I don't think he knew what he was doing.
My face was really warm in the sun --> My face was hot in the sun.
This word gives you a chance to find a stronger noun!
3. It is/It was/They are/They were
There was a man sitting on my doorstep. --> A man sat on my doorstep.
It's funny how life turns out sometimes. --> Life is funny sometimes.
It was Jesus who saved my life. --> Jesus saved my life.
She basically stole my identity. -> She stole my identity.
Basically, I hated the guy. --> I hated the guy.
She had a very smug look on her face. --> She had a smug look on her face.
Better: Describe a specific about her face, such as: "The right corner of her mouth tugged upwards in a smug smile."
I highly doubted my child told me the truth. --> I doubted my child told me the truth.
7. Needless to say
Needless to say, the boy was punished. --> The boy was punished.
If it's needless to say, then why say it?
8. In my opinion
In my opinion, dirty politicians should be held accountable. --> Dirty politicians should be held accountable.
The reader already knows it's your opinion, so there's no need to preface it.
The preacher had totally convinced me to change my mind. --> The preacher convinced me to change my mind.
Or better: The preacher changed my mind.
This was actually interesting to me. -> This interested me.
Whenever you can, change your verbs from passive to action, like in this example.
Seriously, no one could make me laugh harder than my dad. --> No one could make me laugh harder than my dad.
She had clearly run the red light. --> She ran the red light.
Literally no one else has made a better cake than my mom. --> No one else has made a better cake than my mom.
Or better: No one else can bake a better cake than my mom.
He promised that he would never come back --> He promised he would never come back.
Of course, sometimes you'll need "that" to make sentences work. This word is not as superfluous as the others on this list, but examine your manuscript to find any extra "that's" to eliminate.
I almost got emotional thinking about it. --> I got emotional thinking about it.
"Almost" loses the impact of a sentence. If eliminating it proves an inaccurate statement, then consider another verb.
I was slightly less disturbed this time. --> I was less disturbed this time.
It seemed that not everyone agreed with her. --> Not everyone agreed with her.
The lion simply walked through my backyard. --> The lion walked through my backyard.
19. Sort of/Kind of/A little
He sort of warmed up to me. --> He warmed up to me.
I had a little bit more respect for her. --> I had more respect for her.
Even Luther thought escaping was a good idea. --> Luther thought escaping was a good idea.
I absolutely believe in Jesus' redemption. --> I believe in Jesus' redemption.
She definitely will not be going with us. --> She will not be going with us.
Or, better: She won't go with us. This avoids the passive voice.
22. All of the
All of the people in the room grew quiet. --> All the people in the room grew quiet.
It is commonly believed that only women suffer with eating disorders. --> It is believed that only women suffer with eating disorders.
Or better: "Men suffer from eating disorders too." This reconstruction eliminates the unnecessary and impersonal "It is believed..."
24. I feel/I think/I believe
I believe that there are greater days ahead. --> There are greater days ahead.
Or better: Greater days are ahead. This reconstruction eliminate the flabby "There are..."
I feel like no one cares about the poor anymore. --> No one cares about the poor anymore.
The reader already knows this is your opinion or feeling, so there's no need to preface it.
25. Due to the fact that
Due to the fact that I was out of town, I couldn't visit my friends. --> Since I was out of town, I couldn't visit my friends.
26. In the event of
In the event of your friend refusing to forgive you, forgive her anyway. --> If your friend won't forgive you, forgive her anyway.
27. In spite of the fact
In spite of the fact that my mother said she loved me, I often didn't feel loved. --> Although my mother said she loved me, I often didn't feel loved.
I felt rather odd about saying yes to him. --> I felt odd saying yes to him.
Notice that you can also eliminate "about" to tighten this sentence even more.
29. It is interesting to point out
It is interesting to point out that even Jesus rested. --> Jesus rested.
You don't need to tell your reader that it's interesting. All of your sentences should be interesting!
30. As a matter of fact
As a matter of fact, I do hate dogs. --> I hate dogs.
You can also eliminate "do" here to create more impact.
I'm quite tired of telling people how to live their lives. --> I'm tired of telling people how to live their lives.
This word reduces the impact of your words.
32. Type of
He's the type of guy to stay silent. --> He stays silent.
33. Make sure
You want to make sure that you tell the truth. --> Tell the truth.
I'm relatively new to motherhood. --> I'm new to motherhood.
35. To be honest
To be honest, I didn't want to go. --> I didn't want to go.
This filler phrase is contradictory. Are you not honest with your readers in other places?