“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?
In my last run through my eight-book series on the life of Christ, “Soul Journey With the Real Jesus,” I noticed I used “suddenly” and “but” too often. Eliminated them, and it reads so much better. Good points.
Oh, Katheryn, I need to watch out for the “buts” also.
When I’m finished with a novel, I also look for the words actually, almost, like, appears, approximately, basically, close to, even, eventually, exactly, finally, kind of, nearly, practically, seems, simply, somehow, somewhat, sort of, truly, and utterly. I also try to cut down on was and were and search for “ly” words. I still have trouble with the “ands” and the “buts” but I working on it! Thanks for the post, Zoe, and love those weasel photos!
Super, Jan. I’m going to add these to my scene check list.
I tend to error with most of them. I will use the Find feature to scan my documents for each use to weed out the unnecessary ones, and my awesome critique partner is great about catching them.
Funny, I’m finding myself editing my speech after I say something with the unnecessary “just”and “really.”
Jane, you made me laugh. I try to edit “actually” from my speech. Something that is actually really hard for me.
In Deborah Raney’s class at the BRMCWC class, members gave alternatives for the word just. Narrowly, simply, hardly–can you remember others?
I don’t think anyone mentioned narrowly yet, Marcia. One of those -ly words that we don’t want to use very often.
This couldn’t have come at a better time when I’m “cleaning” up my MS to send to the editor I met at Blue Ridge. Thank you so much.
Big hugs! <
Hi Renee, I’m glad it was helpful. I’m also cleaning up my wip and hunting for weasels.
Back from my hunting trip. I can’t believe how much it’s cleaned up my manuscript. It reads so much better too. Thank you again.
So glad, you hunted down those robbers and made your manuscript better. Every little thing we do helps.
Zoe, late coming to the party, but I appreciate your wisdom. Using the weasel as a visual for your message works a treat. Cheers
Thanks, Marilyn. Actually, the weasel word coin has been around for a long time.