5 impediments to riveting writing

These verbal tics bog down your writing and lull readers to sleep.


All writers strew less-than-perfect turns of phrase in their first drafts, unnecessary words and phrases that slow down writing.

Here are five stylistic flaws that can be eliminated in revision:

1. Unnecessary prepositional phrases

EXAMPLE: After all my hard work, the superintendent’s compliment was gratifying to me.

BETTER: After all my hard work, the superintendent’s compliment was gratifying.

The “to me” can be inferred by the reader.

2. Adverbs that are weak substitutes for a vivid verb

EXAMPLE: The stranger walked threateningly toward us.

BETTER: The stranger stalked toward us.

I do not share the universal contempt for the -ly adverb, but I do take the time to examine -ly adverbs when I revise, replacing them with an evocative verb if I can think of one. For example:

spoke softly = whispered

crawled stealthily = crept

spoke loudly = shouted

3. Stalling phrases like tried to, seemed to, began to, started to

EXAMPLE: The sun’s reflection seemed to glisten and waver on the water.

BETTER: The sun’s reflection glistened and wavered on the water.

EXAMPLE: I took a detour down two short flights of stone stairs and started looking for the Last Chance Saloon.

BETTER: I took a detour down two short flights of stone stairs and looked for the Last Chance Saloon.

In most cases, these expressions merely stall the narrative.

4. Meaningless just

EXAMPLE: He just climbed to the top and fell asleep.

BETTER: He climbed to the top and fell asleep.

EXAMPLE: She just wished the lift would move.

BETTER: She wished the lift would move.

When the adverb just conveys the meaning at that moment or merely, it has a function:

I had just opened the letter when the phone rang.

I have just enough flour to make this recipe.

When just adds neither of these meanings, leave it out.

5. It as a sentence opener

EXAMPLE: It was the comment about the dog that enabled the detective to solve the case.

BETTER: The comment about the dog enabled the detective to solve the case.

EXAMPLE: It was her lack of skill with small talk that held her back.

BETTER: Lack of skill with small talk held her back.

Replacing the vague sentence opener it with a noun strengthens a sentence.

A version of this article first appeared on DailyWritingTips.

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