Laura Howard: A Quick & Easy Step to Make Your Manuscript Shine


A Quick & Easy Step to Make Your Manuscript Shine

I'm thrilled to introduce today's guest, author Jessica Bell. I started following her career a few years ago during the A-Z challenge. In addition to being an author and poet, she's the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.

Need to clean up your manuscript? The first step toward making this happen is to remove superfluous words.

I usually write in present tense, but for the sake of this post I'm going to use past tense for my examples as it is more common. 

These examples will also be very simple for the purpose of showing you what to remove.

So, see the words in bold below? Get rid of them. I call these words "slippery little suckers," because, to put it bluntly, they slip into first drafts uninvited and they suck.

He was standing by the door. → He stood by the door.

She could hear the dog howl. → The dog howled.

She felt him stroke her cheek. → He stroked her cheek.

She grabbed him by the arm. → She grabbed his arm.

Julie didn't even know how to do it. → Julie didn't know how to do it.

The doll that she lost sat on the windowsill. → The doll she lost sat on the windowsill.

They finally arrived at the last minute. → They arrived at the last minute.

All he really wanted was her love. → All he wanted was her love.

The kid climbed up the tree. → The kid climbed the tree.

Kit walked in through the archway. → Kit walked through the archway.

Tom dawdled over to the couch. → Tom dawdled to the couch.

Gemma played out in the garden. → Gemma played in the garden.

She just needed him to sit still. → She needed him to sit still.

Note: Even if the intent of the above sentence was to show that it was the only thing she needed him to do, the word 'just' still isn't necessary, because we would already be in the moment, and you would be showing how the situation is panning out, and therefore, this fact should already be evident.

Jack was almost at the door. → Jack stood inches from the door.

Jack seemed to be near the door. → Jack stood near the door.

Note: Readers don't want things to almost or seem to happen. Be direct.

I can't believe how much I do all of the things Jessica has pointed out! So, tell me - are you guilty of adding words that could be cut?


  1. So, so guilty. Great tips to keep in mind when going over the finished draft to editing phase!!

  2. Oh, yes. These are all great examples, and I find myself cleaning them out after that first draft every time. Jessica's a great writer. Awesome tips here~ :o) <3

  3. These were amazing examples. It's exactly what I'm going through at this stage in the revision process. Taking out all the silly words we write as we are feverishly typing to the end. Jessica is a rockstar at words and I am so happy to see all her books! She's a huge success in my eyes!

  4. Best blog post I've read in a while...thanks Laura and Jessica :-)

  5. Love this post, Laura & Jessica! Thanks for the examples!

  6. I'm in the process of editing a short story collection at the moment and when I read this I'd just spent three hours excising the word 'that' from my manuscript. The only thing I would say is that where it's dialogue you have to remember how real people speak and most of use words like 'just' and 'really' way too much and we're often more long-winded than we need to be. I absolutely hate the precision of Jane Austin's characters' dialogue. I read my dialogue over and over again to make sure it sounds as natural as possible. I'm a terrible one for using 'seems' too. Just made a note to double-check that before I pass the file onto Carrie.

  7. Reading Jessica's book right now. It's a great resource. And, It's nice to see Jessica on your blog!(visiting from her site)


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