Tighten Up Your Story: Dealing With Filler

One of the problems with amateur writers is that they tend to overwrite their narratives. Some of the bigger and more obvious examples are involving new characters who are undeveloped and don’t serve much of a purpose, a side arc that is introduced, but never resolved, unnecessary scenes, and purple prose used for mundane scenes. Those are the big problems. The small ones are using words that carry little to no meaning to the overall prose or narration of the story. Certain words can be filler too. In today’s post, we will discuss filler words. Note: this is in regards to the narrative, not dialogue. If your characters speak using the standard sentence structure of 21st Century English, it’s perfectly okay for your character to say, “Next thing I knew, this guy suddenly slaps me in the face!” But I show you how this is boring in the narrative.

Why get rid of filler words when it’s just a word here and there?

Simple. Imagine your reader enjoying one of your action scenes of a pivotal battle between a knight and the renegade king’s guards. You write this:

Suddenly, the knight let out a scream as the guard’s blade struck out, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as he saw three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. The knight countered and the guard let out a dying scream as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

Abruptly, the knight heard the sound of boots thundering down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.

Bad Adverbs of Instant Action

Suddenly, immediately, abruptly, slowly, and quickly are adverbs of instant action. And they are useless. Pathetically, unequivocally useless. In the above example, There is a battle being waged. Of course, everything will move as fast as possible. So the words “suddenly” and “abruptly” are pointless. Get rid of them.

Verb + out = filler

Cry out, let out, screamed out, shouted out, are examples frequently used by amateur writers and even some experienced ones.

“…the knight let out a scream…” Why use this? Why not, “The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck”

“…the guard let out a dying scream…” Let’s replace with “…the guard howled his death throes as…”

I saw, I heard, I knew, I kicked butt

The words “saw” (and all its variants and synonyms), “heard,” and “knew” are useless words in about 99% of all cases.

“….the knight gritted his teeth as he saw three more men…” Replace with, “…three more men…”

“…the knight heard the sound of boots…” Let’s rewrite it to “The sound of boots thundered down the hall…”

Here are some more examples:

“Jack saw the man draw his gun.” Go with, “The man drew his gun.”

“Margaret heard a moan in the closet.” Go with, “Someone within the closet moaned.”

Let’s clean up our original example, shall we?

The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. He countered, the guard howling his death throes as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

The sound of boots thundered down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.  

Happy Writing!

How to Kill Passive Voice

One of the biggest mistakes amateur writers make when submitting proposals to Dragon Soul Press (DSP) is Voice. It’s passive. As such, Passive Voice does two things that hurts your story.

First, it tends to have more telling and not enough showing. You may have heard this expression, “Show, do not tell.” If you have Passive Voice, you’re likely telling. Here’s an example.

Wyntiir was angry, her face a virtual snarl.

The first part of this sentence is, “Wyntiir was angry.” You told us she became angry—just like that. Let’s do it again.

A fire erupted within Wyntiir’s chest, her face a virtual snarl.

Now the whole sentence reads of her anger and it’s up to us just how angry she feels, but at this point, we get a stronger picture that Wyntiir is frothing mad. If we added more description, that picture gets stronger, but we don’t want to overdo unless her anger is pivotal in a scene or chapter.

The second thing Passive Voice does is creates a bland story or bland action. A lot of great action scenes could be written if the author simply takes the time to clean up their passive verbs. Here’s an example of a bland scene using Passive Voice:

Wyntiir was angry, her face a virtual snarl.

Becoming bored, Samdel yawned. Wyntiir was like this to him all the time.

“Wolf-biter!” she screamed but turned away. She saw the body again. The man before them was clearly dead, rotting away.

All of this is not good and if you have a ton of scenes written like this, it could throw your reader off or worse, bore them to tears.

How to fix it

Fixing Passive Voice is not that hard and actually can be quite enjoyable in the editing phases of your draft.

  1. Get rid of as many passive verbs as possible. Google passive verbs or helping verbs but here is a short list—was, is, are, were, had, to be, being, has been, been, had been. Rewrite your sentences using strong active verbs. In the above example, we replaced the verb “was” with “erupted” and rewrote the sentence.
  2. Don’t use emotive words at all in your story. Look for all the words that is clearly an emotion— happy, angry, sad, depressed, stoic, etc. Describe those emotions through actions, dialogue, and/or body language.
  3. Get rid of filler words tagged with verbs. Cry out, let out, screamed out are common examples. Instead of, “He cried out a sob,” use, “He sobbed.”
  4. Get rid of filler verbs such as saw, heard, knew, notice, recognize. 99% of the time these verbs are unnecessary. Instead of, “The next thing I knew, I saw a man approach me with a gun,” use, “A man approached me with a gun.”

How to Write a Proposal

On an earlier post by Dragonqueen, she writes a general guide on how to submit to a publisher. Here, I’ll give you a live example using my ninth novel, The Ties That Bind to walk you through each part.

Before we start, you’ll see a lot of services geared toward writing that “perfect proposal.” Most of those services are crap and just another way of getting you to part with your money. There are only two rules to follow when writing a proposal.

The first is to follow directions exactly to the letter from the publisher. If the publisher says they want five comparative works to yours, you provide five. You do not provide three, four, or six. It’s five. If they tell you they want your proposal on a Word doc in Times New Roman font 12 with 1″ margins, do it. Publishers have these rules in place to make it easy for them to read, format or do their work. They have to sift through piles of garbage to get to that one gem in their slush pile. Don’t create garbage simply by failing to follow directions. Dragon Soul Press is no exception and they specifically tell you that following directions is paramount.

The second is to be yourself. Don’t kill yourself trying to optimize your perfect word count or coming up with that super-awesome hook to grab the editor’s attention. Yes, spend some time on it, but write it, proofread it, get a couple of your buddies to critique it, and move on. Odds are more in your favor if you wrote something easy to read to get those eyes from your proposal to the actual sample of your writing. Trying to be cute or clever endears you to no one and is tantamount to people who believe in sending in typed resumes on pink stationery sprayed with perfume.

See? I just saved you a couple hundred bucks. Okay, let’s get to each component with examples.

One sentence summary – this is fairly explanatory (actually I wrote a post on it). Write the point of your book in roughly twenty-five words or less.

A man from our world is caught in a race war between werewolf shifters and demons, confronting an ancient power seeking release upon the rise of the Harvest Moon.

Now, we get into the pitch of your story. Dragon Soul Press states to spend only a whole paragraph. There are many parts of a pitch, but since the story is urban fantasy, let’s challenge some assumptions the editor might have made upon reading your blurb.

What if earth is just one of many dimensions of a great realm of different possibilities? A realm where elves, fae, shifters, demons, angels, and other creatures were real? Enter this story, The Ties That Bind, where our hero crosses through a Rift and discovers he is only part of many different realities that is beginning to fracture like a house made of glass.

Let’s run through a final example that publishers and literary agents love to ask for and that is comparative works. While Dragon Soul Press doesn’t ask for this, they do want to know the genre, so bear this in mind. Are you writing fantasy? If yes, what kind? Urban fantasy, steampunk, grimdark, hopepunk, epic, or quest fantasy are just a few of the subgenres.

The Ties That Bind is clearly urban fantasy (our modern world surrounded by many elements common to fantasy-other races, magic, gods, etc.). It’s also portal fiction (the main character from our world, but winds up in a different world and reality). Now that we know this, let’s find our five examples:

1. The Magicians Trilogy
2. The Seventh Sword series
3. Guilty Pleasures (Laurell K. Hamilton)
4. Moon Called (Patricia Briggs)
5. Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

Having trouble choosing a specific genre? There’s an article for that as well.

Don’t fall for services that try to sell you that perfect way to sell your proposal. Save that money for marketing and promotion. Follow directions, be yourself, put some effort into your proposal, and you’ll do fine if you truly have a top-notch story to pitch.

Happy Writing!

Introducing Author Jordan Petrarca

jordan petrarca fb profile


Dragon Soul Press proudly presents Author Jordan Petrarca has joined the ranks! His expertise resides in organized crime and fantasy novels. Learn more about this author here.


Q: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

A: No, even though my last name looks kind of hard to pronounce, I think it’s cool and I love the Italian heritage behind it.

Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

A: I would tell my younger self to not be so hard on yourself, be confident and believe in what you write. Oh, and stop being so lazy and start writing more!

Q: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

A: When I was in sixth grade, I wrote a play called “The Murder of Big Bird” for an English assignment. The teacher loved it so much that she had me cast some of my classmates and perform it in front of the class. The classroom roared with laughter throughout the entire performance and it amazed me how much I could connect with an audience through simple words and beloved characters.

Q: What does literary success look like to you?

A: To me, literary success can be as simple as even just one person telling you how much they enjoyed reading something you wrote from your own imagination. Especially, my wife…Of course, I would love seeing the whole world enjoy it, but in the end, I just want my family to be proud of me.

Q: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

A: The research I do for writing is simple. I watch movies, read books, and play video games that inspire me to be creative.  Years back I didn’t have the confidence to write an entire novel, but after reading over thirty books in a year, I started to believe that I had the tools to write one.

Q: How many hours a day do you write?

A: I have a fairly busy life, but when I’m writing a manuscript, I spend about four hours a day writing.  Mostly at night because I spend time with my twin girls before they go to bed.

Q: What was your hardest scene to write?

A: When I wrote Mafia University, the words flowed pretty easily because I’ve had the idea in my head for the last fifteen years.  But if I had to choose which scene was the hardest to write, it would have to be the opening scene.  It’s a brutal scene, but it makes you want to read what happens next.

Q: What is your favorite childhood book?

A: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Q: How long on average does it take you to write a book?

A: It takes me about 4-6 months to write a book.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: On Facebook, on Twitter, and on my Amazon Page.

How to Create a One-Sentence Punch

Ah, the dreaded blurb so small you have to condense your entire book into a single sentence. In the literary world, this is often referred to as the elevator pitch, stemming from trying to sell your book to someone with the same amount of time as riding in an elevator, but without the uncomfortable staring. How do you do that when your book is something like 80k – 120k words long, has multiple main characters, a dozen supporting characters, and a plot along with two subplots?

First off, let’s think of how many words we get to use for our sentence. At the very most, twenty-five. Any more than that, we’re asking for a headache by creating a run-on sentence.

Second, we now examine the overall plot and break it down into three parts:

  1. The Main Character
  2. The Overall Conflict
  3. The Villain

Let’s take the example of a book titled Fallen From the Stars:

A human with no memory tries to adapt while dealing with prejudice from the elves as the village prepares for the arrival of the Bloody Baron.

These parts can be in any order, but typically, you want to start it with the main character. The human (Main Character) with no memory (the Overall Conflict – Man vs. Himself) tries to adapt while dealing with prejudice from the elves (Villain) as the village prepares for the arrival of the Bloody Baron (Villain).

The key point to summarization is always write it about the plot of your story. With that in mind, writing a one-sentence, a paragraph, or a full-page proposal shouldn’t prove too challenging.

Happy Writing!