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How Writers Can Trap Sneaky Weasels

This week editor Christy Distler takes on this month’s Fatal Flaw #11 – Pesky Adverbs and Weasel Words.

This month we’re discussing adverbs and “weasel words” in fiction. We’ve already talked about adverbs, so today I want to take a look at weasel words. What is a weasel word, you ask?

Merriam-Webster defines a weasel word as “a word used in order to evade or retreat from a direct or forthright statement or position.” This definition describes how weasel words are used throughout a variety of situations, but it has some truth in fiction writing as well.

In fiction, weasel words are not intended to purposely evade directness, but their use can certainly result in a sentence that lacks concise forthrightness. Let’s review the more common fiction weasel words:

  • Weak “to be” verbs: is, are, was, were, had, had been,
  • Superfluous words: that, very, just, really, rather, kind of/sort of, nearly/almost, quite, like, even, so, absolutely, usually, truly, totally, probably, actually, basically, extremely, mostly, naturally, often, particularly, started to/began to
  • “Telling” words: seemed, knew, thought, felt, wondered, mused

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Weasel Words: The Cure for Prepositional Phrase-itis

This week editor Linda Clare continues our look at Fatal Flaw #11 – Pesky Adverbs and Weasel Words. 

This month, our posts are all about the words writers commonly overuse or use improperly.

Let’s look at how prepositions are abused in fiction and how to fix them.

A prepositional phrase is often a directional or time place-keeper. Common prepositions include in, to, of, from, on, over, under, through, above, and below. Writers use them to help readers imagine scenes more completely. Instead of floating in space, a character stands in the room. She lays her keys on the table and opens a letter from a long-lost lover. When she slumps to the floor, readers are grounded.

It’s difficult to write much of anything without using prepositions. Yet writers often overuse them—just in case readers didn’t get the gist of a sentence the first time. In this case, prepositions become weasel words: they’re unnecessary, distracting, and wordy. A case in point might be a paragraph with a POV character moving through it:

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Actions Speak Louder than Dialog Tags: Using Beats in Writing

 This month our editors are taking a hard look at pesky adverbs and “weasel words”—our Fatal Flaw #11. Even a story with a great plot and engaging characters can suffer reader ennui due to the overuse of these words. No matter how long your novel, every word should be chosen with care. Words have weight, and all those extraneous words can sink your story. Editor Rachel Starr Thomson kicks off our look at this flaw with a discussion of dialog tags and narrative beats.

Our focus this month is on words: specifically, adverbs, superfluous verbiage, tics, and “weasel words.” Overuse of such words constitutes our Fatal Flaw #11, a pox on many writers’ prose.

Before I jump into my own topic on this flaw, a few words about said.

Said, when used with a pronoun, creates what’s known as a dialog (or speaker) tag: it’s a phrase that tells us who’s speaking. He said, she said, they said, he called, she cried, he replied, and all the rest. Continue Reading…

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