Currently, I’m going through The Life & Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn, working on polishing up the (hopefully) final draft. One of my missions is to tighten up the writing and trim the word count a bit–it stands at 105,000 words in its third draft. To make it more concise, I’m cutting unnecessary or generic words and phrases wherever I find them. In the first six chapters (it’s forty-something total) I’ve already cut a thousand words. A thousand unnecessary or generic words?!? How did I let that happen?!
Some of the generics that I over-used are “at the moment,” “just”, “kind of”, “sort of”, and “sometimes.” Qualifiers. Things that weaken the words around them. Now, in some cases, I kept these words and phrases in the text. The reason being, children, that Erica is a first person narrator, and consequently I have to keep the voice and style of the narration in keeping with her casual personality. It’s conversational, so the narrative almost becomes dialogue. I’m trying to keep enough of that in to maintain that tone without wasting the readers’ time or undermining the strength of what’s being conveyed.
The main culprit of word waste, however, is dialogue tags. Dialogue tags! Fie on ye!
He saids and she saids are killers of scenes. They drag at the dialogue they’re attached to, weighing it down. They’re repetitious and often distracting, especially if they come after every line. Every writer who’s ever been critiqued knows to try to work around them wherever possible. You put in actions and gestures instead. Facial expressions. Tone of voice. Use word choice and such to make it obvious who is speaking which lines even without tags.
I’m not generally bad about putting tags in where I don’t need to, but damn, have I caught a lot of them in the first six chapters of my book! O editor, edit thyself! The worst thing is, I even put in all that other stuff – action, gesture, expression, etc – to clearly indicate the speaker and then put the dialogue tags in anyway!!! So now I’m hacking them out again, and looking over it afterward, it reads so. much. better.
Learn, children, from my mistake. Do not do everything right to avoid overuse of dialogue tagging and then tag the damn dialogue anyway. You will save yourself hours of tedium by avoiding the fate that I have brought upon myself this day.