Below is a great infographic detailing some weak words and how to fix them.
Do you agree with this exercise or not? Do you have anything you can add to it?
Years ago I had to strike the word “very” from an author’s manuscript because it had been used far too many times. In a very funny email the author replied with the word “very” typed over 500 times. The author said they were trying to get the word out of their system so it would not appear in their next book!
Thanks! I pinned this to my writing board.
Have a great day everybody!
A much better way to get rid of weak words than to substitute one word for another is to completely rewrite the sentence. Instead of using “afraid” or “terrified” rewrite the sentence to describe the cause or effect of the fear or terror. The best authors allow the reader to feel fear without condensing it to one word. When we condense an emotion into a single word we lose its impact. I begin writing with the weak words but when I return to edit, I rewrite using using strong sentences and descriptive language.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Awesome! Thank you.
As for passive grammar, I read recently that for determining if a sentence is passive or not, end the phrase with “by zombies”.
“The car was driven…by zombies.”
“The princess was frightened…by zombies.”
There ya go.
I agree, but there are exceptions, and I will quote one, from Rinker Buck’s lovely memoir, “Flight of Passage”.
He and his brother, at the ages of 15 and 17 respectively, flew a very small aeroplane from coast to coast in 1966 – no radio, map-reading all the way. On crossing the Guadalupe mountains in southwest Texas, they encountered vicious turbulence, and realized a kinship with the airmail pilots of the 1920s –
“”They were just stubborn, that’s all, and afterward they were very tired.”
In this case I believe that the use of ‘very’ is vital to the sentence. The whole point of the passage is to strip away the myths of superhuman courage and skill, and give pride of place to a value we can all achieve – stubbornness. In the service of this aim, the simplicity of the word ‘tired’ seems to fit the best, and to make it a superlative, ‘very’ is natural.
Replaced ‘very tired’ with, say, exhausted would seem to me trite.
Yep – good post!
A really very good thing to read.
Linda K. Rodante
Very good. Oh no, Wait. Let me think… That was great. 🙂 However, I noticed some repetitiveness in the words substituted for “very.” Many end in “ous” or “ious.” Soon we will not be allowed to use those words either. Half joking here. But I think we’re getting to the edge of the cliff on what we can use and can’t. No “ly” words, no adjectives or adverbs at all if you can help it, no exclamation points, nothing more than “said” in tags and no “said” if you can help it, don’t use the “eyes” because after all they can’t do anything, and don’t use “look” or “gaze” or “glance” either. No one looks at anything anyway. Add another smiley face here. I do agree with the post–in general. But I wonder when we will find all these rules are getting ridiculous.
It is true that if all the rules are followed perfectly you end up with 613 restrictions for simple writing (this is a nod to the 613 Jewish Mizvot – commandments – see http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm).
What writing teachers are trying to do is to help their students become better writers. To slavishly eliminate every -ly word would mean I could not have written the word “slavishly” even though it was the right word to use.
In all things, moderation.
I remember helping a non-fiction writer by circling every “I”, “me”, and “my” in her manuscript. It was overwhelming when visually marked. She exclaimed, “But this book is NOT about me!” I replied, “Exactly. So let’s work on eliminating about half of these and I think you’ll find that the writing will become more powerful.” She did the work and a great book was published.
My point is that she didn’t eliminate ALL the personal pronouns. She simply used the right amount.
I’ve heard the case for “was” being the best verb to use . . . sometimes. For example, when you need to give the reader a rest after a lot of action, or when things simply need to move forward, sometimes it’s better to use “was.” I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, Steve. 🙂
Love the infographic!
There is no hard and fast rule with the word “was.” It might work, it might not.
I think this was written especially, and really for me.
I feel, I believe, and I think keep you from being sued for libel. I think Steve Laube is awesome.
I know Joe is awesome…
Erin Taylor Young
Did anyone else chuckle because the infographic’s reason to avoid using “really” stated, “…it really doesn’t do any word justice…”? Granted, that use of “really” is in a slightly different sense. Still. : )
For this novice your post provides invaluable instructions, suggestions and encouragement. Thank you.
Thanks for the infographic, Steve. The alternative adjectives are the best part.
Waffle words like think, feel, and believe can’t keep you from being sued for libel, but they increase the probability that you might not lose in court.
”I believe” is useful if you don’t have enough data to prove something. I don’t usually say “I believe in God” except when reciting the creed as part of worship. I have the scientific data from molecular biology to prove in a 10-minute conversation that He must exist and the personal experience to know He loves me.
I think this is awesome. But then someone once said rules were made to be broken. Thanks Steve.
Thanks for the reminder, Steve. I have been working on these – and getting better – but passive sentences occasionally still pop out.
So true! Every writing teacher applauds you, Steve. As I trudged through a self-published novel last night, I stumbled over several of the writing blocks mentioned in this post. A reader notices the stumbling blocks long before the author does because the writer flies overhead gazing at the journey of the novel while the reader bumps along the pages.
…I really think these things and stuff are very nice…(whoops–smile)
Thank You Steve,
I adore the Infographics.