Cutting the Fat from Your Story

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DOES YOUR WRITING STYLE have fat instead of muscle? By leaving out certain words, you can tighten and tone your manuscript.

In thirty years as an editor, I’ve found the same fatty words bloat the style of many authors.

Here are two notorious phrases: “begin to” and “start to.” They contain empty calories without real nutrition. If you cut them from your diet your writing style will be come sharper and tighter.

Beginner writers are prone to overusing these two phrases. Editors need only glance at the first page of a manuscript. If it contains “begin to” or “start to” (or both, perhaps even more than once), they know a beginner wrote this.

“Begin to” and “start to” are almost always unnecessary. If something happens, you don’t need to tell the reader that it starts to happen. Just let it happen.

 

EXAMPLES:

Fat version

She began to run.

Slim version

She ran.

 

Fat version

Rain began to fall.

Slim version

Rain fell.

 

Fat version

She started to shiver.

Slim version

She shivered.

 

Fat version

His lips started to quiver.

Slim version

His lips quivered.

 

Fat version

The dog started to growl.

Slim version

The dog growled.

 

Use your wordprocessor’s Find & Replace tool to count how many times you’ve used “begin to” (begins to, beginning to, began to, begun to) and “start to” (starts to, started to, starting to).

You don’t need to cut every single “begin to” and “start to” – sometimes, when an action starts and is abandoned immediately, they help clarify what’s going on:

She began to walk home, but changed her mind after a few steps.

He started to paint the fence, but Jane halted his arm.

About four “begin” or “start” per novel are fine – but forty are a sign of fat-wobbling writing, and four hundred are definitely too much.

What other “wordy words” do you think writers can cut from from their word diet?

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