Editing Notes: A Filler Word Extravaganza

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Writing isn’t the same as playing Scrabble. You don’t score higher for using more letters.

A lot of writing advice says this in a general way–don’t use two words where you could use one. Use a shorter word over the longer one. Kill your darlings.

Brevity is the soul of wit, after all. And often of good prose, too.

So today, nine chapters into my nitpicking edit phase, I’d like to share with you the current state of my filler/filter word list, my tiny note card of axes to grind.

Keep in mind this is not a banned word list. If you Ctrl+F your document for back and find it 53 times, some of those 53 will likely stick around. Especially if you’re referring to a person’s actual back, as opposed to overuse of phrases like come back.

Use this list to help you spot words you don’t need at all (very, suddenly); words that have their place but are easily overused (that, just, so, again); verbs you might over-rely on (look, turn, walk); excess stage direction (back, here, there); and filter words that distance the reader from the action (think, feel, seem).

This list is by no means complete; as you develop your writing style, you’ll create your own darlings you need to kill. My worst one that doesn’t appear on other lists I’ve seen is turn–my characters are constantly turning to each other, turning around, turning back. But turn still has a place in my work, because sometimes, it’s someone’s turn to do something, and changing every turn around to spun or whirled would only lead to over-reliance on those words, instead.

Variety, people. Choose the best word for the situation while aiming for variety.

And now, the list.

FILLER WORDS

Readers, feel free to suggest more in the comments–what words you find yourself overusing?

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