Fillers are curious things. They don’t add anything to the sentence and getting rid of them doesn’t affect anyone. However, we naturally add fillers to most things we say and write because that’s what we hear every day. Although fillers typically constitute one or two words per paragraph, they can amount to a large part of a novel’s word count.
UH, ER, LIKE & variations
These fillers are almost always unnecessary. You should definitely avoid them in narrative. In dialogue, while fillers like these can help establish a character’s voice, they typically slow down the reading. Try saving them for when characters are lying or afraid, which gives them a reason to use these fillers.
I know that, she said that, and he believed that are all examples of clause starters that do not need the word that. “They thought that they would be okay” means the same thing as “they thought they would be okay,” but the latter has less words. It may not be easy to read if this clause is part of a larger sentence, so not all thats need to be eliminated in this case. That may also be used unnecessarily when describing an object; for instance, there is no big difference between “the bike that she gave me” and “the bike she gave me.”
UP & DOWN
He lays down on the ground. He sat up. If you can’t lie up, then adding the word down doesn’t contribute anything to the sentence. Once you have established what position the character is in, you don’t need to say he sat up. The reader knows he couldn’t have sat down because he wasn’t standing. Of course, when up and down are used as directions, you can’t eliminate them. For instance, getting rid of up in she looked up may remove important information.
THERE IS & IT IS
A sentence or clause that starts with there is or it is (or there was or it was) typically can be rephrased in a more impactful way. “There was a car on the street” can become “a car sat on the street.” This allows sentences to start in more varied ways and gives your reader a better picture of the subject of the sentence.
Every time you see a sentence with an adverb, see if you can use a more specific verb that incorporates the adverb. “They spoke softly” means “they whispered,” and “they ran quickly” means “they sprinted.” In addition, words like actually, literally, and truthfully don’t add anything to the sentence. If a sentence is written, it is implied that it is the truth.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. Getting rid of fillers can dramatically decrease your word count. In addition, by allowing your reader to focus only on the most important information, you can greatly improve the reading experience.
I mentioned some reasons you don’t want to get rid of fillers in some places: removing the word will change the meaning or keeping the word maintains a character’s voice. These extend throughout the novel to all fillers. Use your judgment when removing fillers. The Ctrl-F tool on your laptop can help you look at each place a filler is used and determine whether or not you can remove it.
I used to use a lot of fillers, especially even and that, but after getting rid of them for a while, I have gotten into the habit of not writing them in the first place. Do you use fillers often? If so, which ones? Let me know in the comments!