Weasel Words, Filters, and Other Candidates For Cutting

weaselI used to overwrite in insane amounts. Unfortunately, I wrote seven novels before I discovered this, and now I’m working my way through, cutting them all down to size.

So in honor of cutting my fourth novel by a third, in the hope that this might help some other poor overwriting schmuck, I have a list of personal weasel words for your cutting pleasure. These are the words we use because we’re basically nice people and want to leave open the possibility that we’re wrong. Who wants to be the guy who’s dead certain his political party has never done any wrong, and any who are opposed can do no right? Not many, and that’s how these words get ingrained into our psyches.

Unfortunately, they don’t work well with narration. I leave a few, but they always go on probation. It’s easier for them to justify their existence if they’re in dialogue because people actually do speak this way, but I keep them light there, too.

Weasel words are mostly adjectives and adverbs:

Slightly, probably, possibly, likely, fairly, sort of, kind of, maybe, perhaps, a few, a little, a bit (really watch out for a little bit) a lot (imprecise), so, very, (and the deadly so very) not quite, almost, nearly, momentarily, some, somewhat, something, someone, a while.

And then there are verbs. Most of the time, you’re best off getting straight to the verb without pussyfooting around it. Only start to jump if you don’t complete it. Or if starting itself is somehow significant. Don’t decide to run your sword through the villain. Just do it. Only use decide if the act of decision itself is important.

Anyway, here’s my list for verbs:

Started, began, was going to, went to, go to (and the absolutely lethal went to go), see about (I actually had a character who went to go see about *hides head in shame*), and its cousin–went to go see, manage to, decide to, turned my attention to, tried to, attempted to, helped to.

Another form of verb weakness is unnecessary actions. You don’t have to describe everything. In my case, I’ve learned to watch for over, although up can be a clue as well.

My list: got up and, went over and, walked over and, reached over and. I kill these suckers with extreme prejudice. I don’t even walk up first.

Filters: if you’re writing in first or limited third, you get a weird relationship with filters. You have to use them when describing assumed thought or feelings for other characters or it’s head-hopping. So Marjorie either appeared to be upset, or you show her red face and bulging veins. But for your POV character, it builds distance between you and the character.

In first, my major offenders are: I knew, I saw, I felt, I believed, I thought/think, I noticed. Sometimes these are active verbs and you need them. You probably can’t kill them all. An easy way to tell is if you lop them off and the sentence still makes sense. Ex: I know I’ll never get this done. You can lop off the I know and it’s more immediate: I’ll never get this done. This list works just as well in third.

And just as a bonus: just and really have to justify their existence or they die. Really.

Does anyone have any likely candidates to add to these?

Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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Posted in Writing
4 comments on “Weasel Words, Filters, and Other Candidates For Cutting
  1. I get caught in the “look” (and its synonyms) trap. My brain doesn’t like to realize that in many instances where I think “look” is needed, it’s implied.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s definitely a word to watch out for, even in its alternate forms. Everyone has their own ‘stop that’ list. I took notes on the last pass of my novel to write this post. It’s as much for me as anyone else, although I figure it can’t hurt to share. There’s always some overlap.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been writing in close first person a lot lately and i get caught a lot with think/ing, i have to keep reminding myself that we are in the characters head so we already know he is thinking it.
    That’s a really good idea about the list though, I’m going to do that on my next editing run.

    Liked by 1 person

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