It’s come to my attention, certain words are taboo in writing. As I studied the art of writing, people pointed out “weasel words.”
Okay, that was a test.
How did you like the previous sentence – does it make sense? Is it to the point? What about the first two sentences? Is there anything wrong with them.
In the wide world of writing, there are some words that should be avoided. These words should be used sparingly (and appropriately – don’t say “just” when you me simply or only), but some writers have become so scared of these words that they eliminate them completely, even if it hurts the tone and voice of their work (see the first two sentences). Yes, there are words to avoid, but that doesn’t mean they should never appear on paper. Some writers have jumped off the other side of the boat, taking their red pens to every scary word in their manuscripts. Here are a few examples that I’ve seen (or heard of) that can be taken to the extreme.
1. Adverbs: If you write fiction, then you’ve been told – cut the adverbs. Yes, I agree … most of the time. The problem comes when you’re in a character’s POV and he’s thinking or talking unnaturally because of the writer’s fear of -ly. Maybe there really are men out there who think women move like gazelles, but most men I know would think a woman moves gracefully or beautifully. Don’t compromise your characters to eliminate every -ly from your story. Your readers will appreciate it.
2. Was: My house waited for me at the end of the street. Really, your house was counting down the minutes until you got home? Did you have a date? When I read a sentence like this, my spidey-senses start to tingle – here’s an author who’s afraid to say ‘was.’ In high-action moments you don’t want to slow things down with to-be verbs, but for a passive bit of information-gathering, My house was down the street works. There’s no need to turn bits of info into detailed, useless descriptions.
3. Said: Action tag – action tag – action tag. In an attempt to remove all ‘he said’s, writers drop in useless action tags, dragging out scenes and slowing down the dialogue. An occasional ‘said’ keeps things clear without losing momentum. Don’t hurt the tempo and flow of your story over your fear of one or two ‘said’s.
4. That: This didn’t happen to me, but a colleague recently told me that she edited a manuscript in which the author never used ‘that.’ In many occasions you can cut the word, but removing all of them can make for some awkward sentences. Suggestion: start with it in the sentence, then go back and read it out loud. If it doesn’t compromise the quality of your work, grab your red pen.
Approach all of these words with caution, but don’t cut for the sake of cutting. You want to produce the best work possible, and it’s okay if that includes a few weasels.