Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Say What You Mean

One of the major demons riding my back is the tendency to shy away from the truth. This is something that I have to keep foremost in my mind when I am writing and editing. The heart of a story is a powerful and dangerous place. Tact and diplomacy are screens that keep me from having to go there and face the story head on. Unfortunately, they also keep the reader at arm's length, generating yawns instead of yelps.

Weasel words kill a story. Not with a knife in the heart or a bullet in the brain, but by slow strangulation. They leach the life out of the writing and leave it pale and weak, gasping for breath and whispering instead of shouting. By "weasel words", I mean indefinite words that sidestep and dodge the true meaning of a sentence. Here is a partial list of the words I seek out and destroy in my writing:

could
should
would
may
maybe
almost
nearly
might
seem
appear

As with all things writing, there are seldom absolutes. The world of story is a shadow place, full of shifting mists and shades of gray. Even weasels have a legitimate place in that eco-system. The trick is to identify those that are necessary and kill the rest. To paraphrase the great philosopher Elmer Fudd: "Kill the weasel! Kill the weasel!"

Conscious choice is the key. Sometimes a sentence needs to be cushioned to have the best effect. Mostly, though, the direct approach is better. If you want make a point, use a right hook instead of a pat on the cheek. A knee to the groin is always more effective than a "Hey, look at this."

What are the words and phrases you have to watch out for? What weasels gnaw on your butt?

2 Comments:

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Melly said...

My weasel words are adverbs.
I am able to write something like:

"Watch out!" he said warningly.

He, he, he. Well maybe not that bad, but you get my meaning I hope(ly)

 
At 4:21 PM, Blogger Carter said...

"Ooooh! I love Tom Swifties," he said adoringly.

;-)

 

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