Weasel Words

In a fiction manuscript, weasel words are defined as words that suck the life out of the words next to them. I have a lengthy list of weasel words. Should they ALL be removed? No. Simply be aware!

These words are usually superfluous:

  • that
  • just
  • a little, a bit
  • really
  • nearly, almost
  • quite
  • rather
  • kind of
  • very
  • anyway
  • any “ly” word
  • like, sort of
  • some, a lot
  • began to / started to
  • even

These words show that you are telling. Remove the words and rephrase to show, not tell:

  • seem, seemed
  • wonder, wondered
  • thought
  • knew
  • felt

These words should be evaluated – are they carrying their weight?

  • would / could / should
  • up / down / back

Look for passive words and evaluate if you can modify the sentence. Here are words that clue you in on passive voice:

  • is, are
  • was, were
  • had (use for flashbacks, but sparingly in normal writing)
  • have been
  • to be

Are you supposed to remove all weasel words? No. Simply make sure that you know they are there and are serving a purpose. Mary DeMuth once told me to limit the number of was/were words to one or two a page. My goal is two a scene, how about you?

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5 Responses to “Weasel Words”

  1. Nice list. Thx.

  2. Nike –

    You’re welcome, glad to help 🙂 Heidi

  3. Thanks, Heidi! My friend and I have been mucking through weasel words and when I recognized your name on a google search I came right here. =]

  4. Patty,

    Glad to help – come back to visit again soon 🙂 Heidi

  5. I’m Patty’s friend who was mucking with her 😀 Thanks SO much for this!

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