Don’t Let Weasel Words Suck the Life From Your Writing

“Nothing marks a skilled writer as much as his ability to write tight.” — Angela Hunt

weasel-470490_1280

Sometimes the words we use in our writing detract from other words in our stories.

Think of the alleged egg-sucking habits of weasels. An egg a weasel has sucked empty will look intact to the casual observer.

by galsio
by galsio

Weasel words suck energy from the victim words next to them. The victim words are there, but weaker.

Weasel words are sometimes the right words in dialogue if they’re consistent with the way characters would speak. Otherwise, if they rob the punch of adjacent words, delete them.

 

Examples of Weasel Words

 

256px-PSM_V54_D810_Weasel Just 

Just works fine when used for showing time. She could tell by his warm coffee mug that he’d just left. If we remove just, it changes the meaning of the sentence. 

Consider I just hate being late. Just robs half the power of hate. Without just, all the emphasis is appropriately on hate

I hate being late.

  256px-PSM_V54_D810_WeaselVery & Rather 

Do degrees of wrong and well help the next two sentences? Disliking her brother was very wrong. He took the news rather well. Are the words wrong and well vague? No. 

Very, sucks out wrong’s decisive nature. Ditto for rather describing well. 

Disliking her brother was wrong. 

He took the news well.

256px-PSM_V54_D810_Weasel Some

She poured some corn into the bowl. Some is unnecessary. We get the image with: She poured corn into the bowl.

  256px-PSM_V54_D810_WeaselImmediately & Suddenly

She slapped his face. He immediately grabbed her arm. If we remove immediately, do we think he did something else before he grabbed her arm? Immediately, powers down the action in grabbed.

She slapped his face. He grabbed her arm. 

Suddenly: After midnight, the doorbell suddenly chimed. Eva froze.

Suddenly tells us nothing new. It doesn’t add fear. The time of night and Eva’s reaction shows us the scariness of the passage. Let chimed retain it’s own powerful sound.

 After midnight, the doorbell chimed. Eva froze.

256px-PSM_V54_D810_Weasel Sure 

Compare: He sure loved her. and He loved her. Sure drains the love out of loved.

256px-PSM_V54_D810_WeaselReally

His sister really deteriorated after Paul left. Deteriorated is already a strong word. Really separates His sister from her problem and takes the emphasis from deterioration.

His sister deteriorated after Paul left.

256px-PSM_V54_D810_Weasel That 

Be careful on this one. That often helps clarity. But many times it adds wordiness. Try rewording to get rid of thats.

She realized that Randy didn’t care that she was ill, and that made it easier to leave him.

Removing unnecessary thats: She realized Randy didn’t care she was ill, and that made it easier to leave him.

Better would be to reword: Randy’s indifference to her illness made leaving him easier.

by clconroy
by clconroy

Weasel words suck the life from other words. Remove them. Click to tweet.

What are other weasel words commonly used?

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Tips to Edit Your Writing to Avoid a Reader’s “Huh?”

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”  —Mark Twain

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We know exactly what we mean when we write each sentence of our story. We’re surprised when our critique partner or editor doesn’t.

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  • Does your editor often mark your work with “vague,” “awkward,” or “huh?”? click to tweet

Here are 3 tips that will improve the clearness of your writing.

Tip 1. Huh? That Couldn’t Happen.

When we put phrases in the wrong place or leave out words we can say something that’s impossible.

by mensatic
by mensatic

Example: He’d forgotten to tell Alice he’d seen three wild turkeys playing golf the other day.

Turkeys playing golf? Huh?

Be careful in your rewrite or you may create a new problem. For example: He’d forgotten to tell Alice while playing golf the other day he’d seen three wild turkeys.

Golf-hating Alice played golf with him? Huh?

Better Rewrite: Earlier today, he’d forgotten to tell Alice he’d seen three wild turkeys on the golf course the other day.

Watch out for impossible actions in your writing.

Tip 2. Huh? What does “it” or “that” or “her/him” refer to?

Sometimes we use “it” or “that” or a pronoun that could refer to more than one thing or person.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Example: She gaped. Maude had told Alex every detail about her past. Maude’s blabbermouth would someday get her in trouble. That hurt her now.

Huh? What hurt? Maude’s gossip, Maude’s blabbermouth, or Maude’s ending up in trouble? Whose past was it? [She]’s or Maude’s? And Maude’s blabbermouth would get whom in trouble? [She] or Maude? That hurt whom? [She] or maybe Maude through a tarnished reputation?

Better Rewrite: Amy gaped. Maude had told Alex every detail about Amy’s past. Maude’s blabbermouth would someday get Maude in trouble. Now, Maude’s gossip had destroyed Amy’s chances to marry Alex.

A lot of names. But the reader shouldn’t be confused now. We could revamp the paragraph to cut down some of the names.

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  • Watch out for the vague “it,” “that,” or pronoun in your writing. click to tweet

Tip 3. Huh? What did that sentence say?

We pack in several pieces of information and end up with a convoluted sentence.

Example: By reaching across the cement wall, Ziggy grabbed the Tiki torch Mom had put there with the hand she’d burned in last night’s fire lighting up the area with it to expose thieves climbing over it, snagging her sweater in the process.

karizbobariz
karizbobariz

Huh? Who had the burned hand? And did the Tiki torch or the fire light up the area to expose thieves? Did thieves climb over the wall, the fire, or the Tiki torch? Who snagged her sweater?

Better Rewrite: Ziggy eyed the Tiki torch Mom had put near the wall to expose thieves entering the yard. She reached the hand she’d burned in last night’s fire across the cement wall and grabbed the torch, snagging her sweater in the process.

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  • Watch out for convoluted, awkward sentences in your writing. click to tweet

What other tips do you have to help writers keep their writing clear?