Lazy writing. Writer’s try their best to avoid it, but slipping into the simplicity lazy writing affords is easy to do. Articles abound on the internet on lazy writing, most focusing on wider concepts such as showing vs. telling.
Today, we’re going to focus on the little details that a simple search can help you track down and revise. These are words and phrases common in spoken English that sound natural in our heads, but can come across the readers as boring.
As with 100% of writing/editing advice, we’re not suggesting you kill every instance of these words and phrases. Instead, try looking at the frequency that word/phrase pop up in your writing. Also look at each individual usage and determine if a fix would make the writing more awkward or would improve the prose.
Look for these words and phrases in your latest work in progress. See where you can change them.
It/there/was/is are all signals of boring writing, particularly when in combinations like below. See if you can take these words and replace them with more specific nouns or more active verbs. Watch out for making the sentence more awkward or repeating nouns in a paragraph.
- it is
- it was
- there is
- there was
- there were
- there are
Needless words come in two major forms–too big or redundant
Big words may sound pretty, but may also have readers hunting for a thesaurus. These words can also be too formal or used regionally, but not generally. The tricky part with big words is when you are a reader yourself. People who read a lot–especially varied genres and styles–tend to know more words than people who don’t. They use these words naturally.
We’re not saying don’t use big words. We’re saying watch out for words that could fall under this category and try to decide if using those words is worth it. Check out this list of “big words” and alternatives.
Redundant words are words would could be cut out of the sentence with zero impact to the sentence. They are simply extra letters on the page. Redundant words frequently take the form of small prepositional words and phrases.
- He got off
- She backed
upagainst the counter.
- He jumped
downoff the ladder.
- His heart pounded
in his chest.
- She thought
- He crossed his arms
over his chest.
Both in thoughts and in spoken English we naturally insert pauses. People who speak for a living–newscasters, politicians, teachers–practice to remove these words from their speech. Writers should work to remove these from their writing. Just as they give listeners pause when hearing them, they give readers pause when reading them. They interrupt the flow.
- you know
Qualifiers are words which are used to convey a quantity or size, but are generic and consequently don’t add much to the picture you, as the writer, are attempting to convey. Delete these words or find a better word.
- a lot
Ex. He was really tall.
You could simply say “tall” and have the same effect, or you could say “towering” and convey a clearer picture to your reader.
Check out this list of alternatives for the use of “very”.