It means there's a lot of unnecessary explaining in my writing and deleting/changing words would strengthen my novel.
Sound simple? It is and it isn't. Sometimes rewording can be a challenge, but there's a lot of words that can be easily deleted.
These "dirty" words are:
Eliminate any words ending in -ly, if you can. Some of my favorites to use are completely, barely, and slowly. These words are especially dangerous in dialogue tags. You can use Edit>Find to search for these words or any of the others I mention in this post.
Example: “No treasure maps, huh?” he teased playfully.
The reader can assume, since he is teasing, that he's being playful. Also, the speaker's tone is often implied by what they say, or can be conveyed through body language.
I had no idea about this one until recently, but it's a doozy. If you can take the word "that" out of a sentence and it still makes sense, then delete it for good.
Example: She wept until all of her mascara had washed away, until she was so spent that she fell asleep on the bed in her cocktail dress and high heels.
Read the sentence over and omit the underlined word. Does it still make sense to you?
correct use: So far she hadn't cried in front of him and she didn't plan to change that today.
Saw, Thought, Noticed:
In a character's POV, all of the seeing, thinking, wondering, hearing, *experiencing* belongs to that character. Unless you are calling attention to another character's experiences as the POV character sees them, avoid FILTER WORDS. (Any form of: see, think, hear, touch, wonder, realize, watch, look, seem, feel, decide, sound, notice, try, experience.) There are more, but this should get you started and the rest you'll be able to clearly identify as you see how eliminating these words works.
Clare swallowed hard as she saw him coming out of the garage.
Clare swallowed hard as he came out of the garage.
This is in Clare's POV, so we know she's the one doing the seeing.
Was/wasn't and were/weren't:
Use of these words makes a sentence passive. Sometimes it's really hard for me to eliminate was. It's probably impossible to eliminate every single was from your novel, but you should only use them when there's no other way to express what you need to say.
Example: He was moody and snapped at everyone except Clare.
If he's snapping at everyone but Clare, it's safe to assume he's moody, right?
This hits on a big issue in writing that can really weaken it. Show vs. Tell. The sentence above flat-out tells the reader he was moody, but the second half shows it. Instead of stating how a character reacted, *show* how they react, in a physical sense.
With a little trolling of search engines or studying book-writing books, you should be able to find more extensive explanations of each of these points. And, of course, there's an infinite amount of other things to consider when revising, but these will help you reduce word count and make the writing more active. The best way to learn this stuff is to revise a work you've already made these mistakes in. In your next piece of writing, you'll be aware of these mistakes and won't be as likely to make them again. I can almost promise you that you will use some of these words "inappropriately" from time to time. I encourage you to ignore these rules every once in a while and just write.
Do you have any helpful hints to add? I'm a sponge for knowledge.