Shed the Extra Weight

by Cherrilynn Bisbano

Summer is around the corner and I want to shed the winter ten. The pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, and chocolates were irresistible, and it shows in my stomach and thighs. Can you relate?

Now, I must cut out the sugar and fat in my diet to be fit and lose the extra pounds. The process is grueling and takes time and commitment. Especially if I want to keep up with my seventeen-year-old son.

My body is not the only place I need to trim the fat to be fit. I learned that my manuscript was not fit to publish because it was fat with extra words. Some of my favorite words are, was, have, and up.

Just like I invest time to exercise, I need to spend energy reading my manuscript to find the excess. My extra weight slows me down, just like unnecessary words can cause the reader to yield, thus losing interest in the story.

For healthy writing, here are a few words to eliminate from a manuscript.

That, really, very, just, then

totally, completely, absolutely, literally, every

definitely, certainly, probably, actually, basically, virtually

was, is, are, am, all

start, important

used to, never, often, almost

big, small, large, tiny

begin, began, begun

Rather, quite, somewhat, somehow

Down, up, in, out, under, over

Wonder, ponder, think, thought, seem

feel, felt, understand, realize

breathe, inhale, exhale

Shrug, nod, reach

Stuff, things, got, and many adverbs.

Are you thinking, pondering, or wondering why certain words made the list? Did you shrug your shoulders and exhale loudly because you use many of these words? Deleting these words is all part of editing your manuscript. professionals tend to consider these words tell and not show. The concept, Show Don’t Tell, is one of the trickiest things for writers to grasp.

Don’t write this: The girl’s phone rang; she looked at the screen but didn’t answer.

Write this: She grabbed the ringing phone out of her Gucci purse, glanced at the screen then stuffed it back into her bag.

Don’t write this: His jeans were dirty, and his hair was messy.

Write this: The mud on his jeans matched the color of his matted brown hair.

Let’s look at a few examples in dialogue, to clarify.

“I wondered whether Cyle was the murderer,” could be, “Was Cyle the murderer?”

She thought he was lying, could be, “Are you lying?”

An adverbial dialogue tag is when an adverb modifies the verb, we use to denote dialogue. For example, he said gruffly, she said hastily, they asked excitedly.

Using them takes the power away from their spoken words. If they say something angrily or gently, emotions and body language become less important. The words are considered telling words. Professional writers are able to show the characters emotionss with tags describing the character’s actions.


“You are intruding on my property,” Tom said angrily.

Could be written, “You are intruding on my property,” Tom said as he shook his fist, then pointed at the boys.

Creating vivid characters with distinct voices and clear motivates makes numerous adverbs unnecessary. As in exercise we don’t want to be all tell and no action. We won’t get the result necessary to lose the extra pounds.

Weight loss is grueling, but better with friends. Have a friend or your critique group read your manuscript to see if you use the same phrases, or any of the listed words. If the sentence flows better, without the word, delete it. If you use one word often, try rewriting the sentence with a different word.

Let’s remove the fat from our writing to speed up the pace of action and dialogue.

What fat words add weight to your manuscript? Is there a word I should add to the list? Do you agree or disagree about adverbs?

Cherrilynn Bisbano is a book proposal writer, a vendor partner, and Authors Community Advisory Council Member. You can contact her through the Contact Us form or the Authors Community Request Form.

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20 thoughts on “Shed the Extra Weight”

  1. Gina, you are so right on. Yet so many authors who are successful seem to follow their own rules. I just finished a book that had been on the best seller list and there was way too much “tell” and very little “showing.” Maybe when you’re already well known you can get away with it, but those of us still struggling need to get it right. Thanks for taking the time.

  2. As a generalization, some of the words you listed should not be overused. However, those words exist for a purpose and should be used as appropriate. There is no grammatical rule not to use them. Moreover, writing ‘fassion’ always changes.

    1. That’s very true, Stefan. I wrote a short story that had to be 3,000 words or less for a contest. I couldn’t seem to find the words to cut (too married to the words rather than the idea). Finally, I realized I had 15 ‘that’s in the story. That is a lot of ‘that’s LOL They were definitely unnecessary, but for sure ‘that’ is necessary in some instances because taking it out changes the meaning of the sentence.

      1. Sharon, I appreciate your comments. You are absolutely correct. This list is some of the words people overuse. The list is just a guideline. I still use some of these words, especially in dialogue.

  3. My question is, how would you express a ‘shrug’ when the character gives one without adding too many unnecessary words to the text? There are times when those words come in handy. But in general, we do use too many filler words in our writing. Just don’t take so many of them out that you leave a skeleton instead of a story.

  4. In other words, show… don’t tell. Many writers have a problem with this. There is another thing that too many writers use… He said, She said, John said. When it is not necessary. If you can read your text aloud and know who is doing the talking, there you go. Often less is more… Dennis De Rose

  5. Awesome advice and reminders here. The first line of words? guilty!! 😛
    I have learned that some of these tell words are useful but in limited quantity. It’s interesting to type in any of those words on your search button (in your word document) to see how many times it’s in your manuscript.

  6. Margaret Welwood

    I find that reading something out loud helps me to trim the fat, or–occasionally–to add a little. When I’m reading to kids (or even reading a kids’ story to my ever-patient husband), I will automatically delete words that don’t help the flow.

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