Pop! Goes the Weasel (Word)

Due to great demand, I thought I would give you a partial list of my “weasel words.” These are words I overuse and are often unnecessary and clutter up my books. I will go through, usually when done with my first draft and do a “find” for these words and destroy them! (Although, sometimes I do need one or two and after much deliberation will vet it and allow it to remain.) You should come up with your own list, but I bet some of your words are the same as mine. One way to learn what your weasel words are is to ask your critique partner or writing group to point them out to you. Invariably, we cannot see our own. I have often muttered to myself “I can’t believe I used that word again!”

Okay, here’s my list. Feel free to comment and share some of yours.

  • • just
    • have to
    • could
    • would
    • began to
    • started to
    • it
    • it was
    • there was
    • were
    • very
    • rather
    • some
    • thought
    • wondered
    • mused
    • had
    • -ly [to find adverbs]
    • -ing [to find progressive construction]

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  1. I use autocrit to find all my over-used words. I’m currently putting my 100K m/s through the program 1000 words at a time. It’s a tedious but necessary process. ‘Know’ and ‘felt’ are two words that always seem to crop up, even when I think I’ve written a weasel-word free piece!

      1. I find most writers leave out had when they need it (they are using past tense instead of the needed past perfect). however, when you revert to back story or a flashback, you do need a “had” in the first and last sentence, to clue the reader when the flashback is starting and stopping. But in the middle of all that, you don’t need “had.” Here’s a great page that explains the difference and when you must use “had.” http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html

  2. This is one of the best sites on writing tools and this post in particular is too good. I did this exercise and lost nearly 200 words. Well worth it. Thank you. I hope you are putting all of this advice into a book?

    1. I’m putting the year-long writing course from the blog, Writing the Heart of Your Story, in book form in November. I probably won’t compile all the Say What entries until there us enough to make a book, but in the meantime you can always print them out and put in a folder!

  3. About a year ago, a member of my critique group read through my manuscript and commented on my overuse of “that.” I ran a Find on the word and found 1125 occurrences. Ouch! I’ve watched my usage of that ever since. I even wrote a blog post about it. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Great post!

    These are some of mine (although I’m getting good at not writing them to begin with): suddenly, almost, slightly, nearly, just, which, that, rather, quite, really, very, began, going to …And filter words: thought, realized, saw, heard, felt…

  5. Great lists of words. By the time I add all these and go through my books I may not have a novel any longer. Cut down to short story size? But really–your novels will read much faster, cleaner, and jhabe a nice crisp feel after you purge all the weasel words.

  6. Great advice – interesting how many recur. Here’s some on my list:
    Seem(s)nearly somewhat most was maybe every nod watch look was are feel walk move do can wait mobile/cellphone practice/practise just really quite perhaps that it there gaze saw OK/okay little pretty very almost appears probably…and the -ly words.

    Tom Bryson

  7. Great timing, thanks.

    For me, this is usually the last or second to last step. Edits, proofing, culling the scenes that are no longer needed and incorporating feedback from my beta-readers all come first, then the final polish – killing off the weasels.

    The more books I write (finishing number 6), the less frequently they pop up but, not surprisingly, they still exist. I’m two weeks away from that step. Will bookmark this page for reference.

    Thanks again.

    1. Nothing wrong with using these from time to time, but many say “nodded his head” (what else would you nod?) and “shrugged his shoulders” (shat else would you shrug?), so I often tag clients and let them know they need to leave the extraneous words out. I find the most overused physical description/action is “he smiled.”

  8. Excellent list, as I found many of my own contained in the original posting, as well as several others (so, although, surely). I’ve printed this out for a reminder!

  9. Hello are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get
    started and set up my own. Do you require
    any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. yes, WordPress is king. However, my daughter is my webmaster and she’s taught me a lot on how to get around, but I don’t do any of the style or design, etc. It helps to hire an expert to get youa ll set up.

  10. What do you do if you’ve run out of different ways to refer to an item in a manuscript? Is it ever acceptable to use “it” or is IT a big no-no? In a piece I’m working on now I need to refer to a book several times in the same paragraph. Book, novel, text, tome – ever acceptable to just say “it” when it’s obvious?

    1. Sure, you can use it a lot if its clear what you’re talking about (I just used it two times in that sentence). But you also don’t want to try to use a different word for something every time you refer to something. Like, in a paragraph you don’t want to say book, novel, manuscript, tome, work, etc., just to make sure you are not repeating. Better to rewrite sentences so that you don’t have to keep mentioning the subject over and over.

  11. Thank you for some excellent reminders. I’ve just found you (thanks to Twitter) and will surely follow you. My little weasel word, which I haven’t seen posted yet, is “all.” Janet

  12. I’m new to writing, attempting to write my first book and I am learning so much from great articles like this. I am finding myself using the word ‘as’ constantly but am not sure how to stop!

  13. Was… that… rather… the… I, when writing in first person… sure,there’s more.

    A couple of my characters, English isn’t a first language so contractions are not used as often as they could be. It’s been commented on.

    It is a process, right?

    Great list… I shall have print it out and add my words.

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