Does Your Story Need a Trim?

Yes, yes it does. We writers love the words we produce—a little too much. Sometimes our descriptions go on way too long. Scenes and dialogues may be well written, but sometimes they don’t have any relevance to the plot.

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Everything you write should move the story forward. Maybe you think your long description with its luscious words will impress the reader. But maybe all it does is slow down the action.

Put your manuscript away. Pull it out one, two, or maybe four weeks later. Are there any parts you gloss over to get to the next piece of action? Are there any paragraphs you read twice because when you get to the end, you have no idea what the point is? Do you notice long paragraphs that turn out to be one long, for-the-love-of-god-please-end-now-before-I-pass-out sentence? Do any descriptions or metaphors seem a little forced? Confusing? Weird?

Search your manuscript for needless words:

  • very
  • just
  • really
  • basically
  • the fact that
  • definitely
  • actually
  • that

The list goes on. Many of us use particular words while writing because that’s how we talk, but if you can take these words out of your sentences without losing the meaning, kiss ’em goodbye.

Some couples need to break up and stay single:

free gift

merge together

reconsider again

fiction novel

equal to each other

true fact

unexpected surprise

I love to slice and dice words, sentences, paragraphs, even whole chapters. To me, it’s like losing weight without having to diet or exercise. I do feel lighter.

But I know not everyone feels that way. Ever see those makeover shows on TV? Sometimes a woman will weep as the hairdresser snips away at her monstrous mane. Editing your precious words may seem like that. But like hair, words can grow back. Track your changes in Word or save a copy of the original.

Chances are, you’ll fall in love with the tighter, sharper version of your story, and you’ll never look back.

For a closer look at your manuscript, visit I Spy Edits.

Ease up on -ly adverbs. Seriously.

When I first sought out tips as a newbie writer, number six on someone’s Ten Rules of Writing list hit me: Never use the word suddenly. Never.

That rule hung there like one of those do-not-remove tags on mattresses. I’ve broken the speed limits, told little white lies, and committed any number of venial sins without pause. But I have never removed the tag from the mattress, and I never use the word suddenly in my writing. Never.


Before you break into a panic remembering all the times you wrote the word suddenly, you should know that frequent use of the word suddenly has not been proven to cause cancer. Side effects such as headaches, nausea, frequent bowel movements and the inability to control them have also not been proven. However, there might be some editors who disagree.

Removing the word could result in better writing. Try it.

So, what about other -ly words? Do you often use an -ly adverb to modify said?

“Stop,” Sam said angrily.

How angry was he?

“Stop.” Sam shook his head at her and then walked away.

Or angrier?

“Stop.” Sam raised his fist, ready to strike.

Show, don’t tell. Those -ly adverbs don’t show, and they don’t tell me much either.

Take a highlighter and mark all the -ly adverbs in your manuscript. Then go back and ask yourself, can I write it a better way?

I think you can, and I know you’ll see a more active story.

For a closer look at your manuscript, visit I Spy Edits.

Does my novel make me look fat?

Want an honest, helpful critique of your manuscript? Find a group of writers.

Business Colleagues Together Teamwork Working Office

Who, tell me, who in your personal life is going to point out the weaknesses in your novel? Who among them would not be afraid to hurt your feelings? If you’re looking for an honest, helpful critique of your manuscript, do not go to a family member and certainly not your spouse.

Weeks into my marriage, I asked my newbie husband, “Does this skirt make me look fat?”

“No,” he said, but then added, “Even if I thought it did, which it doesn’t, do you think I would tell you otherwise?”

No husband with any sense of self-preservation is going to say anything negative about your looks—or your novel. Neither will your kids, or your BFF, or that guy you buy organic lettuce from at the farmers market.

Now, if you have a female spouse—maybe. Females can be rip-your-heart-out honest, for your own good, mind you, because they love you. Maybe. But is she a writer, too? She can criticize but can she critique?

Get helpful input

You need a critique group, or a beta reader, or a manuscript critique pro, or a professor with a creative writing class—someone who knows about writing.

Sorry, copy editors generally do not critique manuscripts on setting, plot, or character development. I’m kind of like that person at the end of the car wash holding the squeegee and the shammy towel. No, wait. I’m a little more involved than that. How about a house inspector? I didn’t design or build your house, but I can walk through it and tell you if it’s up to code. (For details, check out I Spy Edits.)

Manuscript critiques will elevate your writing and improve your story. Don’t write in a bubble. That was probably the best advice I heard when I first started writing. When you are alone, wrapped up in your own writing world, you rule supreme. You are the awesome emperor of your writing universe. The emperor might believe he’s all decked out in a glorious, golden robe with tassels and sequins. But the emperor needs to hear it: Dude, you’re buck naked.

Get a reality check. Is your novel as good as you think it is? Is it ready for submission or self-publication? There’s only one way to find out: get an honest, helpful critique.


Edits To Go


Writing is a journey you don’t have to—and shouldn’t—make alone.

Think of Edits To Go as a quick stop, drive-thru for information and inspiration on your writing road trip. We can chew on some editing and writing tidbits together. I’d love to read your comments.

And if your manuscript needs someone to look under the hood and kick the tires, check out I Spy Edits.

Happy trails to you.