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Economizing Prose

Say hello to today’s guest blogger, Kathy Otten who offers tips on cutting out extra baggage in our writing…

In the same way a driver economizes their gas mileage by condensing trips and monitoring driving habits, as writers we need to do the same with the words we choose to put on paper.

During that all important first draft, the only thing that matters is creating. We let the words flow freely from our heads as our fingers fly across the keyboard. Word counts and word choices don’t matter. This is the time for the creative juices to flow and we don’t want to allow the critical editor side of our brains to stop the story.

But when the manuscript is finally finished (after several rewrites) and ready to send off into the big wide world of the reader, hold off hitting that submit button. Set your manuscript aside for a week or two. Let it percolate. When you come back to it, come back with the critical, objective eye of a professional and search the pages for ways to tighten your piece.

Cutting unnecessary words increases the pacing of your story and choosing the right words can create a stronger emotional connection between the reader and your character.

Here is one common mistake I often make as I write.

Consider eliminating “thought” words from your manuscript.

I keep a post-it note taped to the edge of my monitor with a list of these most common “thought” words.






Began to

Started to







This touches on point-of-view and for this discussion, relates to the established view point character for a particular scene or chapter. Because the reader is already in the head of a particular character, the reader sees, hears, smells, and thinks along with the character. The author doesn’t need to intrude and tell the reader what the character thinks and feels. This creates a subtle distance between the two and weakens the bond between the reader and the character.

These words are usually preceded by a character’s name or a pronoun.

She was stomping snow off her boots when she heard the phone ring.

Where is the thought word? She heard. Delete it. Now change the verb tense for ring.

She was stomping snow off her boots when the phone rang.

He thought back to when his mom baked and remembered the aromas of fresh bread and cinnamon always filled the kitchen.

This sentence has two thought words. What are they? How might you rewrite this sentence?

His mom used to bake, and the aromas of fresh bread and cinnamon always filled the kitchen.

It began to rain.

Where is the passive thought phrase? Began to. How could you change this sentence? Consider changing the subject. Instead of it rained, change the subject to rain. Now ask, the rain did what? Began. The rain began. Pretty boring. Have some fun with it.

Rain poured down in giant drops that bounced off the picnic table and pounded the roof of the gazebo.

Cutting passive thought words and phrases leaves room to enhance your writing and make it stronger.

Jane felt the best thing to do was to tell the teacher.

The best thing to do was to tell the teacher.

Now the sentence is active. The reader is in Jane’s head and knows what she thinks. We don’t need to be told Jane is thinking.

Her skin felt soft beneath his fingertips.

Here felt is used correctly as a tactile word.

Taking the time to do a search of your manuscript and deleting those pesky words that sneak into your writing, gives your story that extra bit of polish which marks your work as professional.

I think it was James Michener who said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

Best wishes and happy writing.


About Kathy

Kathy Otten is the mother of three grown children and one grandson. She lives in the open farm country of western NY, with her husband of 34 years.

She is the published author of three historical romance novels, multiple short stories, and novellas. She writes primarily historical romance, but has also been published in contemporary romance, historical fiction, and western.
Her novel, Lost Hearts was a Utah/Salt Lake RWA Hearts of the West finalist.  A Tarnished Knight was a second place finalist in the Pennwriters, Inc. Novel Beginnings contest and Kathy was a recent winner in the 2016 Northwest Houston RWA Lone Star Writing Competition.

Contact Kathy:


4 thoughts on “Economizing Prose

  1. Laura Strickland says:

    Kathy, Thanks! I found this very helpful! I, too, always set a manuscript aside for as long as I can, following the first write. I call this lettling it get “cold”. In the heat of story writing, everything sounds good. Sometimes we need some distance.

  2. Kathy Otten says:

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for stopping by. Glad you found the tip helpful. I had learned the tip about setting aside the manuscript from someone years ago. The nice thing about writers is that they are always willing to pay it forward. Best Wishes.

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