Words & Phrases: Shun the Weak; Embrace the Strong

image by music4life

Try this exercise and see if you can improve the example below containing weak words and phrases. You’ll replace them with stronger words, cut wordiness, and add power words to spice up the piece. Have fun.

First, read the flavorless paragraph.

The Weak Passage

image by PublicDomainPictures

I went out on the balcony to get away from Edgar. On the next balcony over, Clare was up on a table and looked very much like she was ready to jump over the railing. Was she trying to get back at me for winning a fight with Edgar? I was really afraid that she’d make the leap before I could get from my place to her balcony. But I tried my best and got up on my railing. I almost lost my balance on the railing and fell myself. Finally, I jumped to her railing and then to the floor.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “You could have fallen.”

“I’m saving you,” I said.

“I’m just getting a better look at the view,” she said.

I couldn’t believe I’d been so tricked by appearances.

Problem Words and Phrases

Next, see what you can do with the following words and phrases to make the excerpt more interesting to the reader. Also, can you add some power verbs and nouns?

  • Balcony (repetitions)
  • railing (repetitions)
  • on the next balcony over
  • was up on a table
  • very much like
  • ready to jump over
  • trying to
  • get back at me
  • winning a fight
  • was really afraid that
  • make the leap
  • could get
  • my place
  • I tried my best
  • got up on
  • almost
  • fell myself
  • finally
  • jumped to
  • floor
  • said, asked, said
  • just getting a better look at
  • couldn’t believe
  • been so tricked by appearances

An Improved Passage

image by Pascal-Laurent

To escape know-it-all Edgar, I stepped onto my terrace. On the adjacent balcony, Clare stood on a table, poised to dive over the railing. Was this her revenge for the beating I’d given Eric?

Frantic she’d plunge to her death before I could race to the corridor and enter through her door, I perched on my banister like a raven. I teetered, planted a steadying hand on the stone wall, and pictured my bloody body flattened on the street. Gritting my teeth, I stretched one leg to her railing, shifted my weight, and hauled my other foot next to its mate. I dropped to her verandah.

Clare turned and faced me. “What are you doing? Your stunt was crazy and dangerous.”

Like a cat stalking its prey, I crept toward her. “I’m saving you.”

She swept her hand across the skyline. “I’m improving my vantage of the view, silly man.”

I collapsed into a patio chair. How stupid could I be?

A short exercise to improve a wordy passage that has weak words and phrases. Click to tweet.

I invite you to include your rewrite in the comments.

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

3 Great Ways to Use FIND Before You Submit Your Manuscript

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.— Samuel Johnson

by geralt
by geralt

First, consider these two cautions in using the find and replace feature of your word processor for editing:

  1. Look at each occurrence from the search results to make sure a change works. Automatic replacing can cause problems. For example, consider the paragraph: “He sat next to her. In his grief, he was beside himself.” If you perform a find on next to and replace all with beside, you’ll have: “He sat beside her. In his grief, he was beside himself.”
  1. Replace in moderation. If the change works, do it. Your aim is to reduce repetitions and weak words and phrases, not eradicate certain words.

3 Ways to Use FIND on Your Polished Manuscript


  1. Peruse novels or keep an eye out for well-written phrases. When you find better or more concise phrases, search for a key word that’ll lead you to your ho-hum or wordy phrase and replace the ones that need a change.
by Pescador
by Pescador


If you mention a steering wheel often while characters drive, search on “steering wheel” and try a phrase like the following I found:

Before: He turned the steering wheel and left Main Street…

After: He turned off Main… 

  1. Check counts. If you use an individual word (other than expected high-frequency words, such as the, he, a character’s name) in an 80,000-word novel over 200 times you should work on reducing them. Once, I used up 417 times. I cut the occurrences significantly. Check the words mentioned in 3. below. Using some of these over 25 times may be too often.

To obtain a count:

  • PC = option + f and enter the word
  • Mac = command + f and enter word
  • Scrivener (get a count on every word in your manuscript) =
    • Select desired scenes
    • Click on Editor screen
    • Click on Project, Text Statistics, and Word Frequency
    • Click on desired column to sort

Screenshot 2015-07-14 11.41.59

  1. Search for these words or characters.
  • Your favorite word. In one manuscript, mine was while.
  • Exclamation marks. Use these for shouting in dialogue and thoughts. Your choice of words should show excitement.
  • Ellipses (…)
  • Filler words like uh or um.
  • by HebiFot
    by HebiFot
    Weasel words such as just, very, and some. Here’s an excellent post on words, phrases, and characters to search for: Editing Your Own Writing on Darcy Andries’s website. This is a must read. It covers:
    • Unnecessary and Redundant Words
    • Weak Words:
      • Dull Drab Diluters
      • Filtering
      • Colorless Verbs
      • Modifiers

Before sending your manuscript to a publisher, use FIND and search for these. Click to tweet.

What is the word, phrase, or character you have grossly overused in your manuscript?