Taking Out the Trash: Junk Words to Toss

Ever feel like your manuscript is too wordy? Usually, I find my first (even sometimes, second or third!) drafts are bulging with junk words that do nothing to move the story forward.

Here are some words and phrases I recommend examining in your manuscript. Try doing “find” in Word to locate these pesky words. Sometimes, they’re necessary, but most of the time I find they’re superfluous, and take up space. Be ruthless!

  • “That.”

Instead of: “I thought that I was going to die in there.”

Try: “I thought I was going to die in there.”

You lose nothing from the sentence, and it reads cleaner.

  • “Just”

Instead of:  If I could just talk to her for one minute,…

Try: “If I could talk to her for one minute, …”

  • “Really” / “Very” / “Quite” / “Extremely” / “Slightly” / etc.

These qualifiers add nothing but extra words.

Instead of: “She was walking really fast away from me.”

Try: “She was speed-walking away from me.”

Or even better: “She sped away from me.”

You don’t need them. Replace with a stronger word instead!

  • Adverbs.

Instead of: “Stop,” she said, quietly.

Try: “Stop,” she whispered.

A strong verb always beats an adverb!

  • Probably

This one is just weak. Strike it out when possible!

  • Was

Not only is “was” a weak word, it can also lead to too much telling (vs. showing).

For example, “I was sad” tells your reader an emotion without showing it. Show instead! i.e. “I swallowed down the lump in my throat” or “tears prickled in my eyes.” Etc.

It also leads to passive tense. i.e. “I was sitting.” Try instead, “I sat.”

  • Felt

Much like “was,” “felt” leads to too much telling. “I felt happy” or “I felt embarrassed.” Show these emotions instead!

  • See / Hear

See / hear / smelled are often redundant, especially if the book is in first person POV. For example, if your character says “I see children playing in the park,” and he / she is the one narrating, you don’t need “I see” because it’s already clear the character sees it. Try instead “Children play in the park.”

  • Even

Another junky one to eviscerate.

  • Superfluous Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags are necessary sometimes, in order to show who is talking. However, too many dialogue tags can take away from the scene, and pull your reader out of the story.

For example, let’s say John and Sally are having a discussion, and they are the only two characters there.

“Are you going?” John asked.

“I don’t know, are you?” Sally asked.

“I might,” John said.

“Me too,” Sally said.

This is an example of way too many dialogue tags. Plus, trust your reader! Your reader can fill in some of the blanks as to who is talking. Try something like this instead:

“Are you going?” John asked.

“I don’t know.” Sally shrugged. “Are you?”

“I might.”

“Me too.”


Remember, all rules are meant to be broken! There is a time and a place for adverbs, and there are some times when there’s a junk word that really works. Another example for keeping junk words is in dialogue; when people speak, we use words like ‘really’ and ‘just’ and ‘very’ all the time, and eliminating them completely from dialogue can make dialogue sound unnatural and stilted.

I hope this was helpful! 🙂

<3 Meredith

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