Weasel Words

We've seen them.  We've used them.  Those words that pull us back from the edge, keep us from laying out our emotions or descriptions in full, unapologetic fashion.

What are these words that restrain us and confine our emotions?

I call them hedging words.  As writers, we produce a scene and infuse it with passion and high tension and then, bam! we back off.  As if we're ashamed of the emotion we've let loose.

Examples of hedging words?

    seemed                       a bit                    almost                   mostly

    a little                          nearly                 perhaps                 kind of

    somewhat                   sort of                         

There are others.  There always are.

Why use them?

Why not say Joan smelled like a cesspool after an outbreak of flu instead of Joan smelled a bit like a cesspool. . . ?

He was kind of like that old, wrinkled man in the classic horror movies


His face bore the same wrinkled skin as that old man in the classic horror movies.

Angus seemed more than a little agitated


Charlie was pissed off.  Or even better, Charlie kicked the door in.

Hedging words are not wrong words.  Any of these can be used and used effectively.  For example, in one story, Charlie's seeming agitation could be a good use of sarcasm. If you find yourself holding back, not committing to the emotion or intensity of the scene, consider rewriting.  Remove non-committal words.  Say what you mean to say and let your characters speak and act freely, without a censor.  You're not likely to get punched for the words your characters speak, even though they might.  Ratchet up the tension and drama and see where it leads.

This is your opportunity to let emotions seethe and passion rule.  That insult you always wanted to yell at another driver?  Let it out.  Those ardent love words?  Put them in someone's mouth.  Don't hold back.

See if writing in absolutes doesn't add both life and depth to your work.