Editing a First Draft: Junk Phrases

During the process of tightening up Siana’s War for publication I went on a crusade to eradicate what I came to call “junk phrases”–phrases which added nothing to the prose but increased the overall word count of already long novel. Once I identified a new junk phrase, I was generally chagrined to discover how frequently I used it.

Great example: “I saw”. A lot of Siana’s War is first person narrative. When Siana says: “I saw a regiment of Kadesh’s flame warriors advancing on my troops” there is no reason for the two words “I saw”. They are implied in the telling. Of course Siana saw this; she is the observer and narrator. So kill those two words and make it: “A regiment of Kadesh’s flame warriors advanced on my troops.” Nothing is lost, the prose is lightened and the word count goes down.

Writing in Microsoft Word (as opposed to writing on paper) makes searching for junk phrases easy. I ran each phrase through a global search of my entire novel. My entire list of junk phrases and words is over 50.

During several years of off and on editing, I reduced the first draft word count of Siana’s War from 229K to 164K, largely without substantial or brutal plot edits. It was mostly a matter of tightening up the language. That’s a 28% decrease. From a plotting standpoint I feel like my initial drafts are pretty tight; I outline (and re-outline) extensively. But what I found in editing was a lot of my wordiness is just wordiness. The goal is to be a vivid writer, to have each noun and verb count, and trim the surrounding entanglement of unnecessary words that often just dull the keen edge of that vividness.

Now, with the publication of Siana’s War underway, I’m looking forward to attacking the first draft of book 2 with the same approach.

One Comments

  • Joe Brown April 27, 2022 Reply

    I love this advice Charles, thank you! Could you post a list of the most common Junk Phrases, or your list of 50 (I saw, plus 49 others +/-)?

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