Understanding why these words need to be taken out and how they will help the narrative, and learning to recognizewhat they are and where they are often found is vitally important for the integrity and readability of a manuscript.
The first thing to do is identify the flab.
What exactly is the difference between a really great post and a great post? Nothing, that’s what. A great post should be just that: a great post. The really is, therefore, unnecessary and takes away from the meaning of the word great to the extent that it makes you unsure about the overall greatness of the object in question.
I would add that great was not the best word choice on my end anyway. Great could mean a host of different things, and I should have revised the phrase to say something more specific to my feelings: He wrote an insightful post. He wrote a helpful post. He wrote an articulate post.
The options are really endless. (Yes, my use of really was intentional.)
The other two words on the list were very and totally, both of which I agree with for similar reasons as great, the most important being that they don’t add anything to the sentence.
Sol Stein is a noted editor and author who wrote another excellent book on writing titled Stein On Writing. (I’m sure you can tell from the title that he’s a humble man.) In his chapter “Liposuctioning the Flab,” he says,
“Flab, if not removed, can have a deleterious effect on the impatient reader, who will pay less attention to each word and begin to skip.” (197)
Unnecessary words, qualifiers–the dreaded flab–will cause readers to miss what you’re saying, because the good stuff is surrounded by empty words. Don’t let it happen to you!
Once you know what “the flab” is, it’s good to know why you’d want to spend your valuable time trying to find it.
Think of it this way: readers are picky. They have short attention spans, thanks in large part to the internet, and they have only so many hours in a day. They want to read something that is well written, and a huge part of that is your narrative (sometimes it’s the only part of the book, depending on the genre/subject matter).
Removing the flab is vital to your success if you want people to take you seriously. Readers aren’t stupid (at least, that’s what I like to think), and they will notice when you’re repeating yourself by repeating the same word repetitively. They will think you didn’t spend time writing and revising and rewriting, and the whole thing will appear to be thrown together, and your readers will put your book down.
If that’s not a good enough reason to ruthlessly hunt down the flab and destroy it, I don’t know what is.
Knowing what the flab is and why it’s bad won’t help you one bit if you don’t know where to find it. The short answer: everywhere. You will find a word or phrase to cut in almost every single sentence of a rough draft. That’s just the truth.
What about the word easy is so hard to understand that you feel you need to add a qualifier? If something is easy, it’s assumed to be effortless, so just dump the extra syllables and move on.Or what about this: His teeth were clenched tightly.
Which word do you think needs to go?If you said the adverb tightly, you’re right! The definition of clenched means it’s tight, so there’s absolutely no need to write it. (See if you can find the word in my previous sentence that could be taken out.) I often tell my authors that if you feel you need that extra word, get out the thesaurus and find an adjective, verb, or noun that will clarify your point without a narrative-clogging qualifier.
So you know what flab is and why it’s bad and where to find it. Now you just need to know how to take it out. Well, the easiest way is to not be afraid to delete! Authors get so upset when I ask them to cut, but this is one of the most important aspects of writing: learning how to revise. And revising often means cutting.
Here’s Zinsser again:
“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time.” (9)
You have to strip it down before you can build it back up. This takes time, and it’s hard. But in the end you’ll have strong sentences that say something clearly. Or, after revision: You’ll have strong, clear sentences. And right there I dropped 3 words! Easy.
So don’t get married to your writing. This is not a long-term relationship. Be prepared to say an early good-bye if it’s not working out.
Be it fiction or non, increasing the pace of your manuscript and strengthening it can happen at the same time! All you need to do is “remove all adjectives and adverbs and then readmit the necessary few after careful testing” (Stein 197).
I wish you quite a lot of really good magical luck.