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 Rowan Thalia


Dragon Soul Press proudly announces author Rowan Thalia has joined the ranks. The first book of her Paranormal Reverse Harem trilogy named Keepers of the Talisman will be published in February 2019.

We present a brief introduction interview with the author and request you follow her at the following for updates: Website, Facebook, Reader group.


Introduce yourself and what you write.

Hi, my name is Rowan Thalia. I am a teacher and a mother of two small humans. My first series is a Paranormal Reverse Harem romance. I have also written a myriad of poems that I sometimes share on my Facebook page.

What is your writing kryptonite?

My writing kryptonite would probably be time. Being a teacher and a mom, I find I really have to schedule my time well in order to leave room for myself and writing. It is easy to get caught up doing “all of the things” for everyone else and forget about myself.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

Writing characters from the opposite sex can be fun, but the first time I wrote a steamy scene from the male POV, I was very nervous! I made a few of my guy friends read it and give me their feedback. The responses I got from them helped me build my confidence. I find the more I write from that perspective, the more fun I have writing. Writing is about pushing your limits and writing from another viewpoint definitely does the job!

How do you select the names of your characters?

Fun fact: my main character’s name is a hybrid of my and my best friend’s middle names (Raye and Shane = Rayne). For my harem, first I thought about who they were and where they were from, then researched names based on their heritage.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Not intentionally. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the small, yet important details feel that way.

Now that you have asked me this question, my answer may change for books 2 and 3!

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

One thing I would give up to become a better writer would have to be, oh gosh, coffee? I don’t really have a lot of things that I could give up!

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

For research, I use a lot of encyclopedia and other historical websites. For the beginning of this series, I also bought a few books on magic and wicca just to get a frame of reference. I read around five books before starting and have continued to research here and there when the need arises.

Pantser or plotter? Explain.

Why choose? Just kidding. I am a hybrid. I work with a series outline. Then for each book, I wrote a simple chapter by chapter outline that had sections for beginning, middle and end. However, I must admit that book two strayed off the plan for a few chapters before I was able to realign. One of the characters decided to cause some shenanigans, so when I am actually writing the content, I sometimes become a pantser.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

As a writer, I would choose a white tiger. Like a tiger, the writer in me has raw emotions that are waiting to be translated. My writing is often unpredictable (when my characters decide to take over my plotline). My storytelling can also be sleek and powerful, like a tiger stalking its prey. Rawr!