Did you notice the stop words in the above paragraph? There are at least half of dozen sprinkled in. Stop words are one of concepts I learned in library school. These are words so common they don't rate on a search (such as "the" or "a"). And as a writer, they're the words I don't even realize I've written. But stop words in fiction are like bits of gravel that choke the flow of the story.
Since I'm writing YA, there is a fair amount of "I totally couldn't understand" or "I just want to be left alone" because many of these stop words are specific to a type of teenspeak. But the problem is when the sentence becomes "I just totally couldn't understand and I really just want to be left alone."
I've started a list of my stop words. After this draft, I'm going to search through the entire novel and get rid of as many as I can. Some are endemic to writers ("just" is one I see in manuscripts all the time), some are quirky to my own speech patterns (I noticed I used "a little" a lot.). The trick is deciding when a stop word adds to the story and when it chokes it.
Let's take a closer look at "just." Do a search for it on your manuscript. Are you surprised to see how many times it appears? Once, I saw it five times on a single page. Stops words are like the written equivalent of throat clearing, the um's and uh's of literature. They're insidious because you don't realize they're there until someone points them out.
STOP WORDS TO AVOID
- a little
- a lot
- I decided
- kind of
- that night/that day
Feel free to add to my list or start your own!