Delete the weasel words
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…”
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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