Whether you’re writing a book, social media post, research paper, or even a fanfiction, you want to make sure that your sentence structure flows. As a result, you might find yourself critically analyzing what details you should edit, from the kind of ice cream your characters like eating to that neat fact you found online.
Identifying useless sentences can be complicated and even subjective at times because when you give your readers lots of details, you essentially paint a clear picture in their minds. However, sometimes you’ll add sentences into your work that don’t propel your story forward. These sentences can be dubbed “filler” by some, and nowadays people want to get straight to the point (especially if you’re writing something for the internet. People online have shorter attention spans.).
It’s important to understand whether you’re wasting precious words or utilizing the fullest of your word count. Here’s some tips on how you can identify a useless sentence.
What is a Useless Sentence?
A useless sentence is exactly what you think: it’s a sentence that you don’t need in your writing. A useless sentence doesn’t propel a story forward, and these types of sentences can sometimes serve as padding to help writers meet a certain word count.
Useless sentences hinder your writing because they distract the reader from the point of your story. You don’t want people to stop reading your work midway, and including unnecessary details can cause people to put down your writing even if your ideas are excellent.
Why you should look for useless sentences
You should look for useless sentences in your writing because they conflict with the pace, flow, and tone of your work.
Here’s a few more reasons why you should look for useless sentences in these genres of writing:
- Social Media Posts. If you’re posting a short story, blog, etc. on social media, you don’t need to describe everything. People tend to quickly browse through these posts and will only read yours if the headline/concept catches their eyes. Give them the quick snippet so that they’re enticed to click your links to learn more.
- Brochures & Newspapers. Brochures and newspapers are made to give the latest details on what’s happening in the world. Cut the fluff if you’re writing or designing these, especially because most of them have fairly low word counts.
- Blog Posts. While there is no set word count for blog posts (they can be as short or long as the writer wants), you should only include relevant information within them. This makes them easier to scan, and you’ll make sure that you don’t waste your readers time.
- Middle Grade Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, and any genre with a fixed word count. Each and every book genre has its own rules, but you want to make sure you condense your writing so that you don’t overburden your readers. While some authors write extensively, most build their audience before they published outside the industry standards.
How to Spot a Useless Sentence
Spotting a useless sentence can be challenging for beginners; after all, proofreading must be developed as a skill over time.
Luckily, there’s some simple ways to spot useless sentences. Here’s some tips below.
Your story or work won’t change if you omit it
Sometimes when we write, we tend to add more information than the average reader cares for. If your story, article, or whatever you’re writing still has the exact same message without a sentence, delete it.
Now you might be screaming, “Well, Tolkien describes every nook and cranny the hobbits visit, and The Lord of the Rings was still extremely successful!” Yes, that’s true; however, this descriptive format doesn’t work for all genres. If you’re writing High Fantasy, sure, include everything you want in your world building, but don’t badger readers if you don’t have to. You’ll know when you need to add in details and when you don’t based on the characters and arcs you’re building.
Your adding the sentence to meet a word count
If you’re writing a research paper or need to meet a certain words-per-article, you might be more prone than others to add in useless sentences. When you edit your work, go through and take a look at the sentences you put in as word count placeholders. Ask yourself if they make sense, and delete them if you’re only using them for padding.
This might hurt in the beginning because you might be thinking, “but the reason I put those sentences in to begin with was to meet a word count!” Take a deep breath. Your writing will significantly improve if you don’t take shortcuts, and you’ll gradually gain the skill to write extensively but coherently.
Think of every piece you write as a reflection of what you do today, because if you practice with half-effort, then you’ll stay a mediocre writer.
You wrote them because you didn’t know what else to write
Sometimes writers will hit a stump and keep writing sentences to keep their mind active. This is an excellent skill for someone to have because it builds craft and helps writers keep their momentum.
However, if you found that you wrote a paragraph because you didn’t know what to write, go back and edit these sentences. You can either turn them into something coherent or delete them altogether.
You wrote the sentence to hold a thought
If you wrote a “placeholder” sentence for events and details you couldn’t fill in at the time, make sure they aren’t useless sentences. You should make sure that these sentences elaborate on points that are still relevant in your piece. Clear up all your uncertainties and make your work shine.
At the end of the day, writing is subjective
Hopefully you can apply some of these tips as you go through your work, but remember writing is subjective. We all have our own tone, style, and content to go along with our words, and someone might see value in someone another does not. Go forward with your proofreading with an open mind and make the changes that work best for you.