Bridge to Story

Weeding Out the Un-needed Words

There is... We are...She was...They were...It is...

Yes, we write with these words often. Just read any opening paragraph in a Harry Potter chapter and you'll find was and had. However, look at the paragraphs that follow the opening ones, where narration slips into scene, and many of those was and had verbs fall away to make room for more action-verb sentences.

If we, as novices, only choose to write using these state-of-being verbs and no others, writing with these words in place of action words, then we need to edit more.

Action words show things to the reader. I’ll say it again: plan to revise the “state-of-being verbs” where you can and replace them with stronger action verbs. Then move on to the other two ways of weeding out the un-needed words.

Example Toggle


To Recap: Changing State-of-Being Verbs

There are eight of them,

    Am, are, be, being, been, is, was & were

But I consider these helping words when I'm editing too,

    Had, been, has, which, as, could have, that & there.

Do you do this? Use ‘That is’ and ‘There are’ phrasings instead of writing in detail what you mean to tell your readers?


There is a way of looking at my problem that is easy to fall into. If I do things that way I won’t feel the pain of his dying. And that is what matters most to me.

The topic of death and dying for this novice, are what will be driving her narration. Yet, in her example above she stepped back from letting us see what is in her heart. And she used weaker verbs and helping words to cause that distance from us. I asked her to not use any state-of-being verbs. And we got this:


I fall into the easy way of looking at my problems, and end up creating another to add to my list. But the easy way keeps me from feeling the pain. Remembering his death. Such loss. My anger. He mattered most in the world to me. Now, keeping away the pain, from his memory, matters most in my life.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Removing Words to Add Tension

For some of your scenes you are looking to write an intense ride for the character, yes? Did you know that tense scenes, heightened emotional ones, are usually written in mostly short sentences? Short = tension.

As I stated earlier, a tense scene doesn't have many very long sentences, writing them that way pulls away from the tension. Short to the point and vivid is better. Long and meandering is less so. Giving too much info is feeding the reader, instead of letting them see for themselves, with just evocative details from the author. It's a fine line to walk but it can be done.

So, for every sentence of yours that is more than 20 words, make a note that you will consider it for a rewrite. The goal is to:

    A- shorten the line or B- split the line into more than one sentence.

Go for showing detail we can see and less with telling the reader what they are supposed to be seeing.

Once that is done then go onto the second exercise of the edit:

A Search of Long Sentences.

After each sentence add a parentheses’ word count (8). Make it red, showing the number of words in each line.

Use a highlight tool and highlight the sentences you love. Be judicious - only the ones that really pop for you, make you proud.  The ones you'd hate editing out. Be sparing in this. The ones you do highlight have to really be stunners. As well as serve a purpose of the scene.

Well, if you tend to over-write, you'll probably be plugging away and manage to come up with a lot of color on the page.  And a lot of high numbers in those (#). With the exception of about 7-10 sentences, you may find yourself considering  shortening  many lines, if not all, to 20 words or less.

If the reason you won't shorten those ‘good ones’ is that you feel you can't. This is okay. You can review those on another day. At least they’re highlighted for your consideration.

Now you know how you write. You can see, visually on the page, if you have a tendency to long, long lines. You can also see what percentage of lines you've written that you love, and what percentage you are ready to clear away.

You're now ready to employ these three edit actions to your work. Cut down on State of Being Verbs. Remove words to add tension. Search and recognize over-long sentences.