Three things to note before we jump in:

ONE: there is no ONE SIZE FITS ALL, or no hard and fast ALWAYS rules in strengthening the language of your fiction.

TWO: if your characterization is INCREDIBLE, strong language will most likely come very naturally.

THREE: you have more leeway if you’re writing in first person and within dialogue for voice reasons.

Let’s jump in.


There’s nothing horribly wrong with either of these, but I had an editor once who was a stickler for sentences that started this way. As I began to take these out, I began to see how much more I could say by cutting and adding some specificity. (Also, watch for “it” within your sentences – very often you’re able to say something more poignantly or more specifically when taking “it” out. You want to keep “it” when you’re worried about losing momentum in the story, or worried about repetition)


Weaker: There was a car in the driveway, and I was going to be late.

Stronger: A car sat in the driveway, right behind mine. Great. I was going to be late.

Let’s really expand: I stood at the edge of the driveway staring at my brother’s dumbass, rusted-out truck parked in the direct center of the driveway and then toward the open garage where my car rested. Trapped.


Again, they have their place! But cutting any unnecessary ones will strengthen the language of your novel.

Weaker: He was walking across the room. (You need this if – He was walking across the room as the phone rang)

Stronger: He walked across the room.

Let’s really expand: He stalked across the room, his mouth in the familiar thin line that clearly said I shouldn’t have walked in late. OR He bounced across the room, his eyes crinkling around the edges from his broad smile.


There are so many qualifiers that I can’t hope to give them all. Do a nice Google search for them. “Very, every, even, though, although, guess, think, maybe, possibly, must, ought, probably, just…”

If you’re writing in first person, and you need them for voice reasons, just be REASONABLE about the amount you keep in.

Weaker: I’ll possibly love you so much forever and ever and ever.

Stronger: I love you.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’. Your editor will delete it, and everything will be as it should be.”

Mark Twain

This will give you somewhere to start as you work through your manuscript again. I use the FIND option and look for these in turn AFTER I know my story overall is working.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

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