Fillers, including weak verbs, passive voice, adverbs and the like, slow a story’s pace and distance readers. I consider them flab in the writing. All of us can use some liposuction, in the form of active verbs, description and self-talk. Consider the examples below.
I began to get worried vs. Uh oh
He thought she might be lying vs. His crap detector dinged
He stopped himself from laughing vs. He choked back a guffaw
The room was growing warmer vs. Sweat beaded on her forehead
She could hardly believe it vs. Impossible!
Words like was, could, thought, tried, began are prime examples of filler. In the latest rewrite of my new thriller, Tell On You, I removed enough of them to spin off a short story. Probably not one you’d want to read. On the other hand, nearly every book I read – including those by my favorite authors – are pocked with fillers. They jump out at me. Okay, so who am I to critique highly successful writers? But I find stories stronger without the flab. Right now I’m reading the New York Times bestseller, The Orchid House, by Lucinda Riley. She’ll probably sue me for this, but here’s an example of what I mean. First two paragraphs are hers, second two, my liposuctioned version.
She froze where she stood, knowing immediately that she recognized him. He didn’t move; standing, statuelike, in repose. Obviously he hadn’t heard her.
Understanding she was trespassing on a moment of private contemplation, Julia turned round and attempted to leave the room as quietly as she could.
She froze, recognizing him. He stood, statuelike, in repose. Hadn’t heard her.
She’d trespassed on a private moment. Julia turned away to steal out of the room.
I acknowledge my presumption and hope I won’t hear from Ms. Riley’s attorneys. Wish I had her royalty checks, instead of mine. But ask yourself: What makes a page-turner? What makes you read one more chapter before you put down the book?
Not fillers, I’m betting.