This is strictly business folks. I’m not using up my measly few hundred words on small talk. And these lists are in no way complete. And sometimes, the answer depends on the story.
Before deleting words:
- Does the sentence make sense without the word? (that, just, like…)
- Can I replace the noun or verb with a stronger word?
- Do I need this adverb and adjective? Or I can I show better?
- Does this word not only fit with the mood and tone of the scene/story but help create the mood?
- Did I fall into the trap of writing: she knew, she listened, she watched?
Before deleting phrases?
- Does the sentence make sense without the phrase?
- Does the phrase add to the meaning of the sentence?
- Does the phrase make the sentence sound clunky? Reword.
- Is it a phrase describing a verb or noun that I can tighten to one word?
- Do I have too many phrases in that sentence?
- Have I started too many sentences with small phrases?
Before deleting sentences:
- Does the sentence flow with the previous sentence and the one coming afterwards. Or did I go off on a tangent?
- Is the sentence filled with words that do not create a mental image? (Deadwood) If so, rewrite.
- Is the sentence repetitive of other sentences in that paragraph?
- Should the sentence be moved within the paragraph? For example, thoughts should not come before physical reaction.
- Would the sentence be missed if deleted from the paragraph?
- Just like with words, can a couple of sentences be combined into one? Sometimes, less is more.
Before deleting paragraphs:
- Could I delete the paragraph and it wouldn’t be missed?
- Is it filled with over-written purple prose?
- Does the paragraph move the story forward, reveal character, and add to the conflict?
- Do I have mixed metaphors? Or too many similis?
- Would the paragraph work better later in the scene? Or earlier?
- Am I trying too hard?
- Am I telling too much and not showing? Delete and then rewrite.
- Is it filled with backstory that could be woven into the narrative?
- Is it filled with description that could be pared down?
Before deleting scenes or chapters:
- Does it move the story forward?
- Does it reveal character?
- Does it have conflict and tension sizzling on every page?
- Does it have a beginning, middle, and end?
- Does my character have a goal?
Sometimes, a word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, scene/chapter needs to be deleted. Sometimes, it needs to be rewritten. No harm done in saving a copy and then reworking a new copy. You might be surprised.
What questions do you ask before hitting delete or rewriting?
(Okay, I have to say that was the most boring post I’ve ever written, but I can’t just focus on things like milk and lingerie.)