6 Easy Ways to Cut Word Count

by Davina on May 1, 2013

Delete the weasel words

Weasel Words Wordle

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines weasel words as words that are “intentionally ambiguous [with a double meaning] or misleading, esp. as part of a sentence that deliberately avoids commitment.”

In Stewart Chaplin’s short story Stained Glass Political Platform, they were referred to as “words that suck the life out of the words next to them…”

Weasel words are words that weasel themselves into your writing. They are vague and passive. Eliminate weasel words and reduce word count by more than ten per cent.

How to identify weasel words

A variety of words and phrases fall under the category of weasel words.

1. Two adjectives in a row

For example:
She had a tiny little dog for a pet. [Revised] She had a little dog for a pet.
A dark shadowy figure approached. [Revised] A shadowy figure approached.

2. Pronoun redundancy

For example:
Rita was right and I lost the bet, since Rita and I spent the next month apartment hunting.
[Revised] Rita was right and I lost the bet, since we spent the next month apartment hunting.

3. Two prepositions in a row

For example:
The dog leaped up onto the sofa. [Revised] The dog leaped onto the sofa.
She showed up with him. [Revised] She arrived with him.

4. Unnecessary adverbs

In the post Editing with Adverbs read about alternatives to words such as really, quickly, always, truly, very, fairly and often.

For example:
It is already implied that they are involved. [Revised] It is implied that they are involved.
It is quite difficult to break an addiction. [Revised] It is difficult to break an addiction.

5. Reduce the use of that

In the post A Simple Explanation About Using “That” learn how ninety per cent of the time that can be left out of a sentence without changing the meaning.

For example:

Suffice it to say that there were errors in her essay. [Revised] Suffice it to say, there were errors in her essay.
The book that I just bought is a bestseller. [Revised] The book I just bought is a bestseller.

6. Redundant description

For example:

He crawled across the floor on his hands and knees. [Note] What else would you crawl on?
The meeting started at 10 a.m. in the morning. [Note] We know that a.m. infers morning.
The child shrugged her shoulders. [Note] What else would you shrug?
She smiled happily. [Note] Smiling indicates happiness.
They whispered quietly. [Note] Whispering is quiet.

The self-editing process

Weasel words divert the reader’s attention and convey more information than necessary. Recognize when you are attached to a phrase or passage you have written. Don’t be afraid to “kill your darlings”.

When you comb through your novel and cut unnecessary words, you will streamline the reading and sharpen your writing practice.

Stay tuned for more suggestions about how to cut your novel’s word count in upcoming posts.

What techniques work for you when you self-edit?
What are your weasel word pet peeves?

Image Credit: Davina Haisell, via Wordle.net

Related Posts with Thumbnails


patricia May 2, 2013 at 11:15 am

I can always tell when I have been visiting with my youngest child as it appears in my writing with too many likes and really. It took me awhile to comment because I got caught up in all your links, which are dynamic, Thank you.

I have sent your post on to my Korean friends as they have a difficult time with English because they use 25 in Korean to say what we say in about 5 words and that does not translate well when they want to take Board Exams
Practicing tweeting is very helpful for the non-English speaker; as are such good posts as found here.
patricia´s last blog post ..THE BEQUEST OF BIG DADDY ~Jo-Ann Costa

Linda May 3, 2013 at 8:00 am

I agree that sometimes people use more words than necessary to express a thought, and I am probably guilty of doing this. However, I disagree on the example “she smiled happily” that smiling indicates happiness. Sometimes words like smiling need a descriptor. She could be smiling sadly, wickedly, bemusedly, coyly, etc. This gives the reader an look at her emotions. Just my 2 cents worth.
Linda´s last blog post ..Quote of the Week

Hilary May 4, 2013 at 9:17 am

Hi Davina .. I’m sure I’m too wordy … and when I actually settle to publish something – I’ll have to be a lot more careful ..

I guess the Wordle artwork may highlight our problems and give us a head start? It won’t point everything out – but certainly is a thought …

Cheers Hilary
Hilary´s last blog post ..Reflections Post .. A – Z (Aspects of British Cookery) 2013 …

Davina May 10, 2013 at 7:58 am

Hi Patricia.

I use “like” and “really” quite often. I remember way back in high school when these words — especially “like” — appeared regularly in conversation.

You’re welcome for the links. I’m glad you found them useful and thank you for forwarding them to your Korean friends! Yes, you’re right about Twitter that’s for sure. :)

Hi Linda.

Thanks very much for your comment. You are right about using descriptors to describe smiling. As you say, there are many ways to describe a smile and my intent was not to suggest never to use one. But if someone is looking for ways to cut word count, such descriptive words can be lessened in certain circumstances. Using them sparingly allows room for them to stand out when they are used.

Hi Hilary.

I don’t think you need to change anything about the word count on your blog…unless you want to! You weave some wonderful thoughts and pieces of information together. Your blog is quite conversational. I’ve never sat there while reading your writing and considered that you should cut down :)

Hilary May 10, 2013 at 8:15 am

Hi Davina .. good to see you! And thanks for the compliment re being readable and ‘enjoyable’ .. I will try and shorten some posts … but those thoughts end up weaving around and finding new bits and bobs from somewhere … which I enjoy putting together .. still it’s comforting to know the blog chats away to itself and to all commenters …

Have a happy weekend .. we’re blowing a gale here – and it’s mighty chilly in the wind … but at least it’s light, and the sun does shine through occasionally! Cheers Hilary
Hilary´s last blog post ..Brain Pickings, Roger Ebert, RIP … blogging … A- Zers something to reflect over and the ‘what now’ …

Talon May 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Thank you for your kind comment on my poem, Davina.

I’m one of the few writers I know who loves to edit…and regularly kill my darlings. I’m never that attached to my words especially in a first draft. There’s something satisfying about slimming a sentence down…not losing the beauty or the essential thought…but refining it. I think of it as polishing. :)
Talon´s last blog post ..Lions Abide

Davina May 19, 2013 at 6:11 pm

You’re welcome, Hilary!

I know what you mean. One train of thought leads to another :) It is like you’re weaving a tale and you don’t hold back. Imagine how much less you would find if you did try to cap it.

Hope the gales have settled down! Cheers back to you.

You’re welcome, Talon. You just write so beautifully :)

I know *exactly* what you mean. Trimming a sentence is very satisfying! Editing is one of my absolute joys. I love that being such a wonderful writer, you’re not attached to your words. Polishing is a great way to describe it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: