“Nothing marks a skilled writer as much as his ability to write tight.” — Angela Hunt
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.
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
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.
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.
She poured some corn into the bowl. Some is unnecessary. We get the image with: She poured corn into the bowl.
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.
Compare: He sure loved her. and He loved her. Sure drains the love out of loved.
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.
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.
Weasel words suck the life from other words. Remove them. Click to tweet.
What are other weasel words commonly used?