KILLING WEASELS

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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2 Responses

  1. I think of them as automatic words, first draft words–words I put down en route to wherever I’m go. I still edit them out later, but it makes me feel less critical. 🙂

  2. Lev, I (somewhat!) agree. I don’t take special note of them when I’m writing, although if I do notice one, I try to change it early in the game. But I don’t let those changes bog down my writing. Anything that’s written can be re-written … and probably should be!

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