12 Weak Words We Can Turn into Strong Ones

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Weak words have no place in our stories. Removing them or replacing them with stronger words improves our writing.

In my last post, I included a list of weasel words that can slip into our writing unnoticed. Those listed can simply be removed without the need for changing the sentence.

Following  are 12 weak words or combinations of words that can be removed or will, in some cases, need to be replaced with stronger ones.

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1. Was – when used in passive sentences.

Many people think of passive voice as soon as they hear someone talk about was, but was can be both passive and active. Passive voice is in use when the first object in the sentence is being acted on by the second. The fix is simply to have the objects switch places, which eliminates the weak word was along with the passive voice.

Weak: The door was slammed by the angry teenager.
Stronger: The angry teenager slammed the door.

2. Forms of be in sentences that aren’t passive.

Weak: She was hungry.
Stronger: Her stomach rumbled.

3. Vague uses of it.

Weak: She savored the cheesecake. It tasted great.
Stronger: She savored the cheesecake. The rich dessert tasted great.

4. The combination of it and was.

Weak: It was a dark, dreary day in the city.
Stronger: Fog entered the city uninvited and refused the sun admittance.

5. Vague uses of there.

Weak: She walked into Starbucks. She went there every morning.
Stronger: She entered Starbucks, which she did every morning.

6. Adverbs used as modifiers in exposition and dialogue tags.

Weak: She drove quickly across town to the Emergency Room.
Stronger: She raced across town to the Emergency Room.

Weak: Excuse me. I need to slip out for a moment,” she said softly.
Stronger: “Excuse me. I need to slip out for a moment,” she whispered.

7. Was used with ing form of a verb.

Weak: Ever since she received The Call, she was dancing on the clouds.
Stronger: Ever since she received The Call, she danced on the clouds.

8. Simultaneous action using the –ing form of a verb when the two things can’t be done at the same time.

Weak: Walking across the stage, she took her position at the piano.
Stronger: She walked across the stage and took her place at the piano.

9. Awkward had had construction.

Weak: She had had enough of his empty promises.
Stronger: She wouldn’t listen to any more of his empty promises.

10. Multiple prepositions.

Weak: She hit the volleyball up over the net.
Stronger: She hit the volleyball over the net.

11. Unnecessary prepositions.

Weak: He stood up and stretched his weary limbs.
Stronger: He stood and stretched his weary limbs.

12. Redundancies.

Weak: He shrugged his shoulders.
Stronger: He shrugged.

Weak: “Let’s meet for lunch at twelve noon.”
Stronger: “Let’s meet for lunch at noon.”

I’ve spotted every one of the Dirty Dozen in my writing at times. Have you? Which of them do you find most problematic? Which of them do you have under control?

Can you think of other weak words to add to the list?

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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30 Responses to 12 Weak Words We Can Turn into Strong Ones

  1. Jessica says:

    Can’t think of any others, but I’m aware of it and I just now found out about double prepositions. I think those may be my downfall! lol

  2. Not sure you put the right sample in for the second one with respect to “BE”.

    I hadn’t thought of the “there” issue before but recognize the others. Great list again for referencing, Keli. Thank you!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Eileen, when I see a sentence like “She was hungry,” my goal is to remove the was. Often I do this by rewriting the sentence, taking it from telling to showing, which is what I attempted to do in this example.

      How would you do things differently? I love to learn from others.

  3. What an excellent, helpful post, Keli! I know I am occasionally guilty of using some of these. Thanks so much for helping me keep my writing in line.

    P.S. I like this post so much I’m going to share the link to this post with my Word Chicks group on Facebook. Hope you don’t mind. 🙂

  4. I just read through your last three posts and concluded the following: I am a wordy writer; I use a fair number of weasel words (love that description!), and I am guilty of lazily relying on weak words. Thanks for talking tough love about writing to me today! I will bookmark this post so I have the list of culprits hand at all times.

  5. Keli, these are very good! I don’t have to look for #9 and #10 offenses, but the rest are regulars as I edit my writing.

  6. I think I’m guilty of all of these. 😉

    Keli, I received your package yesterday and ever since, my kids have been fighting constantly over who gets to play with the racoon. I had to resort to setting the timer for five minutes each. As if that wasn’t funny enough, my son insisted he take it to school today for share time. So you’re our local hero around here!

  7. Thank you for another informative post. I appreciate the time you take to put together such helpful posts. Blessings to you, Keli…

  8. Another “keeper post” Keli – – thank you!! 🙂 I’m sure I’ll definitely be referring back to this post again and again. ~ Now I’m about to dive back into my WIP and see the “weasels” that need to be removed! 😉

  9. Tana Adams says:

    If I could just stop using the word just, I might just see some real progress with my writing!

  10. Can I call you to edit my next book?

  11. Great list, Keli! I deliberately used the past tense in one of my novels with first person POV. It felt better than present tense, but that pesky passive ‘was’ turned up much too often.

  12. candidkerry says:

    Thanks for these great reminders and examples, Keli. I know I’m guilty of all of the above!

    I’m starting a folder in my outlook to keep these wonderfully helpful writing posts! 🙂

  13. This is a great resource! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Gina Conroy says:

    Oh boy, I got lots of them. DOWN and BBACk are two of my most used WW as well as JUST
    Crouched (sat) DOWN…
    Looked BACK over her shoulder

  15. Number 7, is actuall past perfect (I think) which does have a lot of legit uses. The trouble is that it is often misused.

    I would look into that before just taking it out.

    Also I think you have a typo in that one.

    Otherwise this is great advice.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Michael, I owe you BIG time. There wasn’t a typo in number 7. There were several of them. The perfectionist in me cringed when I saw what I’d done. Thank you for pointing out my mistakes.

      As you said, there are many times when was + an -ing verb work, but I go with the stronger -ed form of the verb whenever I can.

      Slinking off with flaming cheeks . . .

  16. Great list, Keli! Those are all changes that improve style and aren’t hard.

  17. Jen J. Danna says:

    This is a great list. I even printed it out, sort of a ‘first draft – make sure you check for these’ checklist. I have a bad habit of falling into too many of these pitfalls and then having to fix it later, so having a list to check after the list draft on each chapter will be a lifesaver! Thanks!

  18. Carla Gade says:

    Keli, these posts are fantastic. You are helping me become a better writer. I need to be reminded of these things often for them to truly become engrained.

  19. Ella says:

    The word THAT always gets me!!
    example: There was an old tattered couch that the staff loved.
    Replace with: There was an old tattered couch the staff loved.

    And I’m always trying really hard to eliminate weak words and the passive voice. Thanks for this!

  20. Lisa Kilian says:

    Dang! What a helpful list! These problems always creep up every once in a while and I still scratch my head wondering how I can fix them. Now I have something to refer to. Awesome!

  21. Julie Glover says:

    Great to think about as I embark on an edit of a manuscript! The first time through is always the hardest, and I’m sure I’ll find several examples of what you point out here.

  22. Julie Musil says:

    Yep, I’ve had to slash and burn some of these words, too! Thanks for the great list.

  23. Anna says:

    Great list. I find that I have a lot of these in my writing. Luckily, I’m still working on first draft, so I’ll be sure to go back and strengthen my sentences. In high school I got a note from the teacher that I needed to “show, not tell”. It’s my biggest trouble in writing and I love reading about how to fix that trouble and become a better writer.

  24. Caroline says:

    Thank you for this incredible, helpful list!

  25. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter says:

    Yep. Been there. Done that. Though my fix tends to be more along the line of “I stuck my sword into his gut.”

    I write Fantasy, and my current main character is an expert swordsman. His weakness is that he’s amnesiac, so he’s wandering in a world he doesn’t understand.

    Wayne

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