Last week my critique group talked about “empty” words—the words we don’t need and don’t notice we use too often. My go-to favorite unnecessary word is “just,” a word I discovered that I’d used 368 times in a 127-page (so far) manuscript. By the time I finished searching and replacing it with a blank space, I’d cut 250 words from my text. Other favorite empty words we found: really, actually, and well.
The problem with finding empty and overused words is that unless you know your favorites and keep a diligent eye out for them, you don’t really (see what I mean?) notice them as you type. They’re in there before you realize it, and they’re invisible to you when you reread your work.
A fun way to discover what words you’re using a lot is to build a word cloud, which shows you at a glance which words you’re using most in your text. Scrivener has a built-in feature for this purpose, but if you’re not a Scrivener user, there are other ways to do it.
Several free programs will build word clouds for you. Tagcrowd is available for most platforms and word processing systems. Cut and paste your copy—the entire book, a chapter, or, say, a blog post—into it and let ’er rip. WordClouds is fun, letting you choose what shape, color, and type font you’d like to see your word cloud in.
Word clouds are not necessarily an accurate reflection of words you want to delete. For example, my WIP has a light mystery plot that revolves around a car factory, so the words “car” and “factory” come up at a disproportionate rate in my word clouds. However, these aren’t empty words in my manuscript—they have to be there. Still, using a word cloud is a fun way to see what words you’re using the most, and the cloud might give you an idea of what words you might want to throttle back on.
Have you ever tried this technique? How do you locate the empty words in your manuscripts?