Now that the giddy rush of finishing my latest book is fading, I have to get back to work. One of the things I like to do while I'm waiting for comments from critique partners, and letting the book marinate in my head, is to take out all my cruft, crutches and repeats.
Cruft is the filler that eases the word count shock, but doesn't add anything to the story. Stuff like "could feel" instead of "felt," "a little" modifying everything, "so then" when "then" would suffice. Other crufty words that crop up include really, very, actually. If she's really very happy, I can probably express that in a more interesting, less crufty way.
Another form of cruft hides in innocent prepositions. "She sat down on top of the bench..." instead of "She sat on the bench" or "reached back behind" instead of "reaching back." If there are two or more prepositions in a row, I probably need to delete some of them.
Erasing the cruft helps tighten a manuscript. (Though I admit, it's kind of disheartening to delete all the cruft and realize I just lost 1000 words. Yikes!)
Crutches are words and phrases I lean on during my first draft. They hold my place until I can write something original.
My first drafts are full of people nodding, bobbing and shaking their heads. When I don't know what I want people to do during dialogue, chances are, they will be rocking that neck like it's Bobblehead Stadium. (They also lean and look a lot. Dammit, people, stop that. You look like Wild Things!)
Repeats are good words that I already used. It takes a long time to write a book, and sometimes I forget I used a particular metaphor in an early chapter, so I reuse it later. Same goes for a distinct word choice- having more than one insidious or exhilarate in a book is going to stick out.
The longer I write, the more I recognize my own cruft, crutches and repeats. And sometimes I can filter them out while I'm creating the first draft. But I won't ever catch them all, and it's something worthwhile to work on while I sort out the bigger issues with my book.