Strengthen Your Writing By Avoiding Vague Words

word-punching-is-better-than-editingVague words suck the life out of your writing like a malnourished grammar vampire. It’s important to follow the rule of ‘show don’t tell’ I’m sure you’ve heard thousands of times by now. Rather than say a person is feeling some way, show it in their body, voice, or actions. It helps your reader connect with the character or their environment.

Emotions are not the only vague words, however. Examples of different types weak words are in the chart below. Some examples under ‘ Because this is weak’, contain more than one!

You Work Hard. Don’t Let Vague Words Sabotage You!

Consider how you would write a scene for a movie. Make it cinematic in your mind to put yourself in the position of the viewer so you can describe the important details. I typically follow that process by putting myself in each character’s position. This allows me to check emotional reactions and their physical manifestations.

In Unneeded Words Are Slowing You Down, we said ‘there are places for most of these words and you need to be careful how often you use them, but not necessarily shy away from using them at all’. Same goes with weak words. Context can change a word’s strength. For example: ‘She was cold’ is weak writing because it doesn’t paint a picture for the reader. ‘Her eyes turned cold’ however, is emotive and tells us what the character is feeling and gives us an idea of their appearance.

Learn The Worst Offenders Lurking In Your Manuscript

Avoid This Because This Is Weak  And This Is More Engaging
Afraid He was afraid the intruder would find his hiding spot. His hands shook with uncontrollable tremors, making the cabinet door shake as he inched it closed.
Almost He had almost reached for the drink, but noticed the cruel anticipation on his host’s face. His hand was inches from the stem of the martini glass when he noticed the cruel anticipation behind his host’s fixed gaze.
The creature was almost as big as her car and covered in dark scales. The creature’s face pressed against the windshield, filling her view with dark green scales and bloodied teeth.
About She was about to leave the house, when the fire alarm went off. She was halfway to the car when the muted wail of the fire alarm sent her sprinting back.
Anger / Angry Anger pulsed through him like fire when he saw the man who had ruined his life. The muscles along his jaw seized. It took all his restraint to not lash out at the man who had ruined his life.
Bad The smell from the bag was bad, like a pair of socks worn for a week. Nausea swept over him in a wave, and he choked on bile when the rotten, vinegary scent escaped the bag.
He was bad. Someone you’d imagine kicked puppies in front of school children. He never wasted an opportunity to offend, making sport of people’s emotions to amuse himself.
Better It was clear that she was better than her competitor, and she would make sure the woman knew it. When the other woman had trouble answering the question, Daphne spoke over her, drowning out her blubbering with an expertly crafted reply.
Big The chocolate muffin was big. The top of the chocolate muffin was easily the size of his hand.
Clean It had taken most of the day, but the room was finally clean. It had taken most of the day, but all the clothes were hung and the piles of scrapbooking supplies put away.
Cold
(temperature)
Her fingers were cold to the bone. She tried to bend her fingers, but the muscles were frozen and wouldn’t comply.
Fast The car was so fast, it was gone before she could snap a picture.  The car whipped by, screeching around the corner and out of sight before she could snap a picture.
Feel He could feel how cold its skin was. The beast’s black icy skin sucked the heat out of his fingers.
Felt
*This word can often be removed entirely
She felt tired and just wanted to go to bed. She was tired and wanted to go to bed.
He felt like it was a bad idea to keep pressing for an answer. The way her eye twitched was enough to tell him to stop pressing for an answer.
The puppy’s fur felt soft The puppy’s fur was soft
Fun The man looked like he was having fun in the ball pit. The man laughed as he leapt into the ball pit.
Get / Got She got a present for all her hard work. She was awarded a present for all her hard work
He went to get the baseball from his neighbour’s yard, hoping he wouldn’t be seen He slipped into his neighbour’s backyard, grabbing the baseball before darting out.
Good They were really good at baking. Their baking was exceptional.
Great It was great to see her again. He was thankful to have seen her again.
Happy She was happy that her plan had come together at the last minute. With her plan coming together at the last minute, she fell into her chair with a pleased sigh.
Hot It was hot as hell outside. Waves of heat distorted the horizon.
Large He was a large man, easily twice her size. The man was easily twice her size.
Look 
She looked at her friend, not sure what to say.
*Avoid this word in this context as much as possible. 
She stared at her friend, not sure what to say.

He looked like he might throw the other man off the balcony. He seized the other man by the doublet and pushed him toward the railing.

Loud The dinosaur’s roar was loud. The dinosaur’s roar echoed from the canyon walls.
Nice He was one of the nicest people she knew. Few people went out of their way to help others like he did.
Pretty
*This word can often be removed entirely
She was pretty, like Disney princess. Her features were regal and proud, drawing the eyes of all those around her.
It was pretty disheartening to know she was out of her league. It was disheartening to know she was out of her league.
Quiet The quite was almost too heavy to bare. The sound of her own heartbeat was overwhelming in the silence.
 Short He was short, with piercing blue eyes that made her giggle. His piercing blue eyes glanced up at her, loosing a rush of excitement in her chest.
Slow The car drove by her house slowly. The car inched passed her house.
Small The dragon was small. The dragon fit in his hand.
Some He handed her some cookies to go with the tea. He handed her a plate of cookies to go with the tea.
 Stuff Her backpack was full of stuff she’d forgotten to remove before going hiking. Her backpack was full of school books she’d forgotten to remove before going hiking.
 Tall She was as tall as her father, with several more years to grow. She was already looking her father in the eye, and had several more years to grow.
 Things Things didn’t make sense. How could he have known she was the murderer? She was confused. How could he have known she was the murdered.

Other words you should consider or omit: basically, actually, absolutely, completely, definitely, literally, perhaps, rather, totally, virtually, maybe, probably

How Does Weak Writing Affect Your Work?

Weak Writing Doesn’t Engage The Reader

Loki, angry that he’s failing,  stood and screamed,
“Enough! You are, all of you, beneath me. I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…”
The Hulk grabbed him quickly, and smacked him into the ground over and over again, leaving craters with every hit.
Dropping the Asguardian, he walked away.
“Puny God.”

Stronger Writing Creates A Scene

Loki stood, throwing his hands back. “Enough!”
The command echoed from the walls, so powerful it stopped the Hulk’s charge.
Breath labored by fury, Loki heard nothing but the rush of his own royal blood in his ears.
“You are, all of you, beneath me,” he spat, lips curling with spiteful disgust, “I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…”
The Hulk immense hand snapped out, seizing the Asgardian by the legs. He was pulled up in the air before his surprised cry fully manifested. As Loki was slammed into the floor, the air was knocked clear of his chest. Stunned by the force of the blow, he barely felt the next impact, or the one that followed. They came so rapidly, he was scarcely aware of his own panicked gasps or the chunks of black stone tiles flying past his face.
Released from the titan’s grip, Loki gaped at the ceiling, unable to move. In all the millennia he had lived, he had never once felt pain like this – neither to his body or pride. Even the slightest breath wheezed from his lungs in protest against the sharp agony it caused.
As the god laid in the crater left by his own body, the Hulk strode away with barely a glance over his massive shoulders. His feet hammered the ground with more authority than Loki’s  imperious tirade had ever contained, and when he spoke, his voice rumbled with disdain.
“Puny god.”

*This scene is, of course, from Marvel’s Avengers Movie, 2012

As a side note, changing your weak words to strong ones does not necessarily make your writing longer. In many cases, it can simplify your manuscript by cutting out unneeded description used to support weak wording.

Share Your Worst Offenders

What are your thoughts? Should something be added to this Most Unwanted list? Let me know in the comments below with an explanation of why.

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