More Words You Don’t Need

Last time we talked about the trifecta of unnecessary words: nodding (heads), shrugging (shoulders), and blinking (eyes). If you have learned to eliminate these from your writing, congratulations! It might seem small, but this is a big step in writing tight prose. Now perhaps it’s time to take the next step.

Come to Your Senses

Another category of extraneous words is the five senses, though practically speaking only three are pertinent to our discussion here: hearing, sight, and smell. I hope it goes without saying that you should not bring in body parts here, as in “the boy’s ears heard the bells ring” in place of the shorter and better “the boy heard the bells ring.” Rather, I’m suggesting that you eliminate words like “sound,” “sight,” and “scent.”

Examples: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Compare the following pairs of sentences.


“Beth heard the sound of her own heart beating.”

“Beth heard her own heart beating.”


“Frank gasped as he beheld the sight of his dead girlfriend.”

“Frank gasped as he beheld his dead girlfriend.”


“I smelled the overwhelming scent of potpourri in the tiny bathroom and sneezed.”

“I sneezed from the overwhelming scent of potpourri in the tiny bathroom.”


As with the previous examples of heads nodding, eyes blinking (or winking), and shoulders shrugging, we’re only talking about a few words here or there. When you eliminate these kinds of unnecessary words, not only are you streamlining your writing, but you are also complimenting the reader. It’s as if to say, “I trust you are intelligent enough to get it, so I’m not going to beat you over the head.”

Take a look at your manuscript and see how many times these constructions occur. If you make enough of these small tweaks to tighten your text and make your story more efficient, you might be surprised at the difference it makes.