Questions to ask before pressing delete.

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:

  1. Does the sentence make sense without the word? (that, just, like…) 
  2. Can I replace the noun or verb with a stronger word?
  3. Do I need this adverb and adjective? Or I can I show better?
  4. Does this word not only fit with the mood and tone of the scene/story but help create the mood?
  5. Did I fall into the trap of writing: she knew, she listened, she watched?

Before deleting phrases?

  1. Does the sentence make sense without the phrase?
  2. Does the phrase add to the meaning of the sentence?
  3. Does the phrase make the sentence sound clunky? Reword.
  4. Is it a phrase describing a verb or noun that I can tighten to one word?
  5. Do I have too many phrases in that sentence?
  6. Have I started too many sentences with small phrases?

Before deleting sentences:

  1. Does the sentence flow with the previous sentence and the one coming afterwards. Or did I go off on a tangent?
  2. Is the sentence filled with words that do not create a mental image? (Deadwood) If so, rewrite.
  3. Is the sentence repetitive of other sentences in that paragraph?
  4. Should the sentence be moved within the paragraph? For example, thoughts should not come before physical reaction.
  5. Would the sentence be missed if deleted from the paragraph?
  6. Just like with words, can a couple of sentences be combined into one? Sometimes, less is more.

Before deleting paragraphs:

  1.  Could I delete the paragraph and it wouldn’t be missed?
  2. Is it filled with over-written purple prose?
  3. Does the paragraph move the story forward, reveal character, and add to the conflict?
  4. Do I have mixed metaphors? Or too many similis?
  5. Would the paragraph work better later in the scene? Or earlier?
  6. Am I trying too hard?
  7. Am I telling too much and not showing? Delete and then rewrite.
  8. Is it filled with backstory that could be woven into the narrative?
  9. Is it filled with description that could be pared down?

Before deleting scenes or chapters:

  1. Does it move the story forward?
  2. Does it reveal character?
  3. Does it have conflict and tension sizzling on every page?
  4. Does it have a beginning, middle, and end?
  5. 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.)

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16 Responses to Questions to ask before pressing delete.

  1. Kris March 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Not boring. Functional. 😉 In my revision, I’m deleting phrases like “he told them he liked the car” and rewriting it to be actual dialogue. Don’t tell us he said it, make him actually say it. Right.

  2. Tina Lee March 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    Ha! I find that my paras come out in the wrong order and it is like a puzzle to put the sentences and ideas back where they go. I’m sure this is just me and it has something to do with a wonky brain. And no one else does this. It is very possible your list might help!

  3. Laura March 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    Kris – You’re right. Dialogue is tricky. That deserves another whole set of questions.

    Tina – No, you’re not alone. I’m often moving paragraphs so the important information is at the start of the chapter instead of the middle.

  4. Karen March 12, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    I’m a sucker for posts like this! But then again, I’m a software geek and like logical things.

    I’m going to print it out. 🙂

  5. Laura March 12, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Karen – Glad you found it helpful. 🙂

  6. Kristen Torres-Toro March 12, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    How about… Will this be missed if I delete it?

    Usually for me I find the answer is no.

  7. Laura March 12, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    Kristen – 🙂 And sadly, one sentence doesn’t affect a story, no matter how much we like the well-crafted sentence.

  8. Terry Lynn Johnson March 12, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    yup, boring, no. helpful, yes.

  9. Laura March 12, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    Terry Lyn – Well, after all my joking around about tightening, I was inspired to ask questions.

  10. Kelly Polark March 12, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

    Boring stuff us writers can certainly use to make our writing less boring! Thanks! 🙂

  11. Laura March 13, 2010 at 4:14 am #

    Thanks Kelly.

  12. Jenn Johansson March 13, 2010 at 6:27 am #

    Great list! Practical, useful, and to the point. Thanks!

  13. Laura March 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    Jenn – Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Dawn Simon March 15, 2010 at 2:09 am #

    I ask myself lots of questions. Two of the best, I think, are two you named: does this scene push the plot forward or reveal character?

    Happy I found you! Thanks for leading me here. 🙂

  15. Paul Greci March 15, 2010 at 2:23 am #

    Hi Laura, When I clicked on your name from my blog it brought me here. Is this where you want it to bring people? Oh, I think could’ve deleted a few words in the above sentence:-) Before I hit delete, if I’m really questioning the phrase or sentence or paragraph, I’ll just highlight it red and come back to it, and more often than not, I end up deleting it.

  16. Laura March 15, 2010 at 2:29 am #

    Yes Paul, this is the right one! And I like you idea about highlighting questionable phrases, even though most of the time I’d remember.


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