Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Streamlining isn’t an easy concept to explain—or master—but it’s well worth the effort. Simply put, streamlining is the act of trying to get your point across in the shortest number of words possible. Yes, I know, I said “simply” when there’s nothing simple about it.

Does your sentence have thirty words when it could be said in twenty-two? Here are a couple concepts to get you started.


The dreaded “ly” words. As a general rule of thumb, get rid of these descriptive words whenever you can. They are “lazy” words and can weaken your narrative if overused. What do I mean by “lazy”? An adverb can almost always be removed by adding a stronger verb, which a lot of writers don’t bother doing. Hence it’s title as a “lazy word”.

Let’s see some examples:

Avoid: “John angrily hit his fists on the table.”
Try: “John slammed his fists on the table.”
Avoid: “John quickly moved around the track.
Try: “John sprinted around the track.”

Avoid:  “John spoke softly into Jane’s ear.”
Try: “John whispered into Jane’s ear.”


Adjectives are another type of descriptive word that can sometimes be slashed too. Unlike adverbs, however, adjectives are not seen as the pariahs of the literary world. That being said, overusing adjectives is a sure sign of immature writing.

Think of adjectives as pepper. Adding a little can spice up bland food; adding too much can completely ruin it. 

Avoid: “The big, giant, enormous spider startled her.”
Try: “The enormous spider startled her.”

Avoid: “John wrapped his big, strong, masculine arms around her.”
Try: “John wrapped his strong arms around her.”

Weak Verbs

Let, allowed, reached, began to, started to, and (sometimes) found are weak verbs which can be problematic as they usually add nothing of value to the sentence and/or are also implied. 

Avoid: “He found himself at the bus stop.”
Try: “He arrived at the bus stop.”

Avoid: “He let his hands slide from her hair.”
Try: “He slid his hands from her hair.”

Avoid: “He reached out and threaded his fingers through her hair.”
Try: “He threaded his fingers through her hair.”

In this instance, if he’s threading his fingers through her hair, we know he’s “reached out” in order to achieve this.
Avoid: “He started to unbutton her shirt.”
Try: “He unbuttoned her shirt.”

Redundant Information 

Be on the lookout for redundant information. Are you repeating information several times? Have you said his house was small multiple times? Has it been stated his eyes are blue every time his eyes are mentioned? Things like this.

There was

Avoid using “there was” ESPECIALLY at the beginning of a sentence. It adds unnecessary wordage.

Avoid: “There was a man with brown hair standing at the door.”
Try: “The man standing at the door had brown hair.” 


Both is rarely necessary when used with they.

Avoid: “They both walked across the street.”
Try: “They walked across the street.”

Was(n’t) going to

The phrase “was going to” or “wasn’t going to” should be changed to “would” and “wouldn’t”, respectively.

Avoid: “If traffic didn’t start moving, I was going to be late.”
Try: “If traffic didn’t start moving, I would be late.”
Avoid: “She wasn’t going to be any man’s footstool.”
Try: “She wouldn’t be any man’s footstool.”

-ing Verbs 

Be on the lookout for overused -ing words as they can introduce weak “helping words” like was, had been and more.

Avoid: “She was running yesterday.”
Try: “She ran yesterday.”
Avoid: “She had been skipping through the park.”
Try: “She’d skipped through the park.”

Junk Words

Illuminating junk words is one of the easiest ways to streamline. Junk words can almost always be deleted without changing the sentence. Here’s a list of common junk words:

seemed/seemed to
right now

Avoid: She’d already decided long ago that even spiders weren’t really that terrifying.
Try: She’d decided long ago spiders weren’t that terrifying.

Out Of

Often, you can change “out of” to “from”.

Avoid: “She stepped out of the car.”
Try: “She stepped from the car.”

So to sum up, streamlining is going deep into each sentence with a pair of metaphorical pruning shears and a box of real Kleenex and cutting out every word that doesn’t have to be there. The process isn’t easy—and I know it hurts—but in the end, your readers (and editor!) will thank you.

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