Lea Wait, posting from still-snowy (but never snow-bound) Maine. And, no, this post is not about animal cruelty. It’s about editing.
Because “weasel words” are words that are wishy-washy. Not exact. The sort of words that pop up all too often in first — and even second or third — drafts. They sneak in, sometimes in large numbers.
And they must be killed.
Every author has their “favorite” weasel words. (One of mine is “just.” It pops up an incredible number of times in my manuscripts, even after I’ve edited multi-times.)
The good news is that most computer programs now have a “search” function that enables writers to hunt down inexact, boring, nondescript, vague words and replace most, if not all, of them with specific, precise, words that clean up a story and push it along instead of bogging it down.
I’ve been collecting those words for a while now. Some (like “just”) I use too often. Others, like “wondered,” don’t usually pop up in my work. But every time I have a close-to-completion manuscript I spend several days searching for these words, and eliminating as many as possible. (Okay – you caught me. “Many” and “possible” are both on my list. See how easy it is for weasel words to sneak in?)
So – because all of you who are writers probably have your own lists — I hereby share mine. If I’ve skipped any of your favorites, please share them! The goal is total extinction.
Just Some Maybe Probably Possibly Could be Generally Usually Really So Often Nice It is/it’s Too
Most Very Thing Guess Estimate Fairly I think I guess Might Pretty much Sort of Kind of There is
There are There was It was I knew/know Clearly Well But Wondered Nodded Smiled Sighed Quite Felt
If you’re feeling particularly murderous it’s not a bad idea to search for “ing” verbs. They’re probably passive. Replace them with active verbs. Kill adverbs; especially those “ly” ones. Use stronger verbs.
This exercise, I might add, is best done with a thesaurus at hand. My favorite is Roget’s Super Thesaurus. I also have the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus on my desk. Some days my brain needs a transfusion.
Onward, on the quest to produce a cleaner manuscript! And a better reading experience.
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