Tighten Your Writing: Cut Out Weasel Words

Posted January 30, 2015 by Briana in Editing / 10 Comments

Cute Weasel
Photo Credit: Cecil Sanders on Flickr

After looking at the picture for this blog post, I think we can agree that weasels are cute.

Weasel words, on the other hand, aren’t that adorable.

When I use the term weasel words, I’m talking about little words that affect the tightness of your writing. Most of the time, they hinder your prose rather than help it. You should learn to cut them out.

The three most common weasel words that pop up in my work and the work of others are so, very, and suddenly. While editing my first and even second drafts, I’ll catch myself using these words instead of letting adjectives stand on their own. Let’s look at an example using all three of these devious rascals:

Cara was so very tired. She was suddenly bored with the world at large, and no longer wanted Roger to know how very scared she was to be with him. He was perfect for her. They were so very good together. Everything suddenly made sense.

Okay, so most people wouldn’t pack all three words into a paragraph like that, but you understand what I mean. In order to tighten this passage, I’ll cut out the weasel words so, very, and suddenly. Check out the difference:

Cara was tired. She was bored with the world at large, and no longer wanted Roger to know how scared she was to be with him. He was perfect for her. They were good together. Everything made sense.

Granted, there are still some aspects of that paragraph that could be improved, but the writing is so much tighter after taking out those words. If you’re still not convinced, try this exercise with some of your own work. It’s a great way to clean up your prose without trying too hard.

What do you think? What other weasel words do you cut from your writing?

Tweet tweet:

Writer @brianawrites shares three “weasel words” that undermine your writing and why you should cut them. (Click to tweet)

Leave a Reply

10 responses to “Tighten Your Writing: Cut Out Weasel Words

  1. Rae Oestreich

    I honestly hate the word “very.” It annoys me with how fake it is, like it’s trying to be sincere but it just comes off as…condescending? Anyway. I totally agree wit these words, although I occasionally use “so” depending on the voice, and I’m guilty of using “suddenly,” no matter how consciously I try to avoid it XD

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Briana Morgan

    You’re welcome! I agree with you on “very” – it’s the worst. Also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using these words in dialogue (not sure if that’s what you meant) because it might suit the character. Just for the prose in general, it’s my preference to take it out. 🙂

  3. Rae Oestreich

    Well, sometimes you’re in first-person so I MIGHT (big ‘might’) be more willing to keep one of those words, depending on the narrator. But that’s a huge might, and a case-by-case basis. For the most part, though, I agree not to use it 🙂

  4. Brett Michael Orr

    I totally agree with cutting out weasel words – it’s always top of my editing list. The English language does a wonderful job of redundancy – there’s always two or three words in every sentence that can be removed. Most are superfluous to the point of actually hindering the work.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. Ben Willoughby

    I catch myself writing a ton of weasel words. I also write the word “seemingly” or “seeming” a lot. I don’t know why. It’s unnecessary vagueness.

    Also, I’ve noticed some authors use “really” a lot.

  6. Briana Morgan

    I always catch myself using “really,” and it makes me want to hit myself. “Seeming,” “seemed,” and “seems” are unnecessary – either something IS or it ISN’T. There’s no seeming about it.