In my editing projects the past couple of weeks, I’ve been noticing the usage of junk words and/or words that can be eliminated or reworded to make a sentence much stronger and concise. Plus, by looking for junk words, especially before you submit, you can make your manuscript more polished and save a ton of work for your future or current editor. Trust me, we love it when you do stuff like that for us.
The biggest junk words I notice are: just, that, and that, then, and then, really, seemed. There are also a few of what we call filter words that I place in that category, too, since they’re the most widely used that I see: felt, knew, heard, saw.
When you’re polishing your manuscript, do a Find for these words. Most times you’ll discover that you can eliminate the word or tweak the sentence just a bit to eliminate. Here are some simple examples:
“He knew she was scared by the look on her face.” vs “Judging by the look on her face, she was terrified.”
“Just as I was walking in…” vs. “As I was walking in…”
“He could tell that she was nervous.” vs. “He could tell she was nervous.”
“She seemed to be nervous.” vs “She was nervous.” (As a side note, “seem” is one I really hate. Either it is or it isn’t. No, that isn’t a rule, just a personal thing of mine)
These are only a very few examples, and keep in mind when you’re going through your manuscript that you don’t have to delete every single instance of the word. It’s okay to have it in there, just don’t overuse them. It’s important to find the line between ridiculously overzealous and realistic. =)