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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.