Editing: Cutting out the Expletives

A few days ago, the newest installment of The Writer arrived in my mailbox, and in it I came across a short, but invaluable article by David Galef. The title reads: “Expletives Deleted” (partially erased by the photo of a pencil eraser.) I won’t go into the content too much, but the basic overall message was that we tend to rely too heavily on phrases like there is, there are and it is. There are (see I did it!) times when it’s necessary to use them, but usually a sentence will become more powerful by cutting straight to the action rather than weakening it from the start.

When I started editing my novel this morning, the article was no longer at the forefront of my mind. That is, until I came to a rather expletive-heavy paragraph:

“This waiting room wasn’t much different at first glance, but there were no magazines on the coffee table. There was no coffee dispenser against the far wall, surrounded by various flavors of instant coffee in long, tubular packaging. There was nothing to distract you from the fact that you were waiting. All you could do was sit there and pull at the skin between your fingers to try and keep awake.”

So, I decided to take out my editing scissors and reword this paragraph to remove each instance of “there was.” This is what I came up with:

“This waiting room wasn’t much different at first glance, but no magazines sat sprawled across the coffee table. The walls were bare of diagrams and instructional posters. Complimentary tubes of instant coffee, a vase filled with flowers, a bowl of candy– nothing existed in this small metallic room to distract you from the fact that you were waiting. All you could do was sit there and pull at the skin between your fingers to try and keep awake.

I don’t think that a writer should never use expletives, but we could all benefit from a language challenge now and then– shake things up a bit. What do you think? Better, worse? Any other suggested writing fallbacks that you try to stay away from?

 

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8 thoughts on “Editing: Cutting out the Expletives

  1. Definitely the second one. It flows better, and goes straight to the point.

    I’m scheduled to edit today, so I’ll definitely check for expletives. Thanks for the great tip!

  2. I agree the second one is better.

    While attending a writing workshop I learned writer’s overuse several “weak” words. After the workship, with my list in hand, I combed through each of my chapters, rewording as many as I could. I was amazed at how the new sentences were so much better.

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