Before querying & sub: cutting word count, filler words, & line-edits

Sometimes, you finish a giant revision and you think to yourself. “Finally, I’ve made it through Mordor and now I will throw this damned ring into the fires of Mount Doom!” Your finger hovers over the “send” button, you stare that beast in the eyes, the one that you thought you loved but that really sucked out your whole life force as you fought Ringwraiths and orcs and lost friends along the way! (okay, done with the LOTR reference).


However, sometimes you need to take a beat, eat some of that magical bread the elves gave you to gain strength (okay, this is the last LOTR reference) and do a final sweep.


As we do the big-picture revisions smaller details do kind of slip through the cracks, things like small word choices that confuse a sentence. Or scenes where our voice gets lost in all of the muck of explaining the complicated backstory (like how the nine human kings each had a ring and then lost themselves to the one ring and became nazgul…okay this is for sure my last LOTR reference)


So, it’s worth doing a “final look” at your manuscript with fresh eyes before you send it out to agents, editors, or even beta readers. This final sweep can help you:

  • Clarify confusing wording/passages
  • Help with word count (if you’re like me and you get wordy, you might need to get rid of redundant words and phrases)
  • Clean up some grammar mistakes you might find
  • Ensure yourself that your MS is as shiny, sparkly as it can be for this stage/round.

One of the things that is worth taking time for before you hit send is searching for redundant and throwaway phrases. I might have already written a post about this, so forgive me as I quote myself! These are things like:

Unnecessary modifiers – words that don’t add to the sentence, except to stress an action. However, sometimes simpler is better. For example:

He wasn’t really hungry.

Words that frame everything from the MCs POV – These words make you see actions and events as the MC sees them.

He could see the drops of rain falling [fell] on the pavement in fat splatters before the heavens opened in a torrential downpour.

Words that say the same thing twice/unnecessary clarifications:

He started to stand stood.

– nodded (her/his/my head)

(more comprehensive list of words to look out for HERE)

Also, it’s been said many times before (because it’s true), but adverbs and adjectives are often a crutch. Now, I will say that I like a well-placed adverb (and I’m not sorry), however, sometimes you can just use a stronger verb and that gets the emphasis across better and cleaner. My one caveat for these is if they add a certain kind of voice to your writing. Those times are where “rules” are more fluid.

Chart Source

And now for some advice from the WBP team!

Amanda Foody: I highlight what I deem are “important phrases, descriptions, and moments” as I read through my work so they’re easy to find again and touch up and strengthen

Mara: My final checklist is like “have an existential crisis about whether this story needed to be written at all”

Christine: “take out the part of your soul that cares for this book and ceremonially burn it” The true final checklist before querying: wine, tissues, chocolate, apps that block your inbox.

An edit checklist from Janella Angeles (honorary WBP member, creator of magical pirates, and grower of beautiful hair):

  1. Take out extraneous dialogue tags or filter words
  2. Think of the rule of entering the scene as late as possible while ending it as early as you can—and then cut wherever is necessary
  3. Take out inner thoughts when you already have actions/dialogue that get the meaning across (Kat note: This is an example of show don’t tell. You don’t need to explain something if you’ve already effectively shown it)
  4. Take out your crutch words and phrases (Kat note: mine is “seemed”)
  5. When writing action or fight scenes, focus on the details that are intimate to your character (e.g. stepping in blood, vibration rippling up your arm after swords clash) instead of trying to capture the whole scene at large (e.g. DEATHHH DEATHHH EVERYWHERE)
  6. Turn passive phrasing to active when you can. (e.g. look for those pesky “to be” verbs and burn them in a fire!!!)

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