Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #3: Those pesky Unnecessary words

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Think GirlOkay, so, necessary words?

How can a word be unnecessary?

I mean, I wouldn’t have typed it if it weren’t necessary, right?

Here are some questions every writer should be asking themselves:


Is your narrative bogged down with adverbs?

Could dialogue or action could be used instead of multiple adverbs?

Does your writing feel cumbersome with lots of –ing words?

Here’s a bogged down example from my First Reader notes:


“Joan was a hot looking, strawberry blonde sophomore, with a singsong voice, and a phony air-headed attitude.”


  • Look to remove unnecessary internal dialogue that slows the pace down.
  • Make a list of repetitive words then go back and search and replace.
  • Do not report on every physical response. This can weigh the story down. Trust the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.
  • Use one word that has the most meaning instead of several to describe something.
  • Do a global search for adverbs and point-of-view filter words (realized, noticed, saw, etc.)


Let it Resonate

Put the word conveying your most important concept at the end of the sentence or paragraph. The space after the period lets this word resonate for a deeper impact on the reader.

Before: “The creek raced along like a roaring monster in the rain.”

Compare that to this: “The creek raced along like a roaring monster.”


Before: We were supposed to work on our fort today, but because of the storm it was a muddy wasteland out back.

Compare that to this: We were supposed to work out back on our fort today, but because of the storm it was a muddy wasteland.

Oooh. “Muddy wasteland”. Much stronger, right? Keep this in mind as you end each sentence and paragraph. It strengthens your story.


TIP: Look for paragraphs or sentences where the important concept or heightened emotion is hidden in the middle then rearrange your sentences and/or words for the most powerful effect and polished narrative flow.


Now go. Polish your flow! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

Don’t forget, Donna will be popping in to answer questions. This is a rare opportunity to ask someone that’s been inside the trenches, so please take advantage while I have her all tied up graciously offering her assistance for the good of all.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.



7 responses to “Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #3: Those pesky Unnecessary words

  1. I’ll venture I’m not writing anything as extreme as your first example, but I know there are sentences that will need just this approach when I’m editing!

  2. In truth, does my query letter have to be compelling to get the intern to read the opening pages of my manuscript? Is it as important to have a strong query as amazing opening pages?
    I do appreciate you sharing advice from the trenches with all of us wanna-bes (or I may be the only one). There is so much conflicting advice about querying.
    Also, if the story and characters are compelling, would you read on even if the writing was sophomoric? I guess my biggest fear is that I won’t ever get the chance to share my stories because my writing needs editing help. (Alas, I’m not one of those people who believes my prose is golden.)

    • Sharon, in my role as an intern the agent always read the queries, requested the full if interested (based on also receiving the first 20 pages), and passed the full on to the interns then for their feedback before she read it or passed on reading it. So I hope all agents are indeed reading their queries themselves! This was my perception. So your query and first few pages should hopefully shine with them. Good luck!

    • Ha! I know I’m not golden.

  3. If you like Dean Koontz, you’ll love reading Donna Galanti. A Human Element is frightening, in a good way, suspenseful, and surprising. Jennifer, it’s great of you to have Donna here to answer questions and provide advice. As usual. I learn a lot from your blog.