The Word Police


Your WIP is looking respectable. It kicks off with a barbed hook and wraps up with a big fish. You’ve plugged up the plot holes, got the dialog flowing, the pace humming, and planted Chekov’s gun on the mantel. The characters are consistent, motivated, and true to life. The structure can withstand a windstorm.

The time has arrived for a visit from the Word Police,
and they’re a humorless bunch.

This is Step 3 in my editing process, the epitome of tediousness, a procrastinator’s nightmare. This is when writing is unadulterated, grueling toil. It’s time for me to weed out all those lame words, wimpy verbs, and crutch words that add no value to my prose. They’re plain old polyester when I strive for silk.

We all tap ordinary words. This post brims with them. Sometimes they’re the perfect choice, and sometimes there’s no wriggling around them.  In dialog, where characterization drives dialect and word choice, an attempt to police your words could prove foolhardy.

Yet, on the whole, if we explore more colorful options, delete the meaningless fillers, and zero in on those “telling” indicators, our writing will grow richer and more compelling.

In my case, the Word Police handcuff me to my recliner for two weeks straight, inject me with caffeine, and force me to use the “Find” function in Word until my eyeballs dry out and my brain shrivels. They know my lazy words well, those I’m oblivious to as they tiptoe into my WIP. For starters the Crutch-word Cops make me look up 561 “that’s.”

I look at thousands of words, one at a time. When I can, I switch them out, thin them, delete them, or rewrite them away…depending.


Here’s the full list (except for the ones I missed). Get to know your favorites and feel free to add a few!

Wimpy Verbs: was/were, has/had, have, be, been, could, got, did, put, needed, wanted, gave, took, saw, walked, ran, sat, liked, moved, looked, appeared, seemed, made, turned, came, went, became…

Crutch Words – fillers:  that, then, next, well, OK, just, actually, really, only, still, yet, since, perhaps, maybe, so, even, tried, began, started…

Vague Words:  very, quite, rather, more, almost, about, around, often, some, somehow, somewhat…

Lame Words: really, awesome, amazing, great, better, dark, sad/happy, cold/hot, fast/slow, old/new, big/small, bad/good, nice, fine, interesting, beautiful, wonderful, sexy, for a moment, a bit, a few, lots, someone, something …

Telling Words – thinking/explaining: knew, thought, suspected, remembered, believed, understood, imagined, doubted, supposed, realized, wondered, guessed, hoped, wished, because…

Telling Words – sensing: Watched, saw, observed, felt, smelled, tasted, heard…

Telling Words – adverbs: Hopefully, quickly, slowly, slightly, sincerely, personally, possibly, certainly, exactly, finally, suddenly… (search by “ly”).

Any others I should add?


122 thoughts on “The Word Police

  1. This part of editing just terrifies me! The first time I did an edit like this on a novel I almost jumped out a window. Or did I? I literally had a thousand and one adverbs in my blasted story – all of them such a waste of space ahahaha I also use a lot are ‘appeared’ and ‘possibly’ oh and pretty much all the telling words you mentioned hahaha i’m screwed

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve just realized how often I write realized!. Oh blow!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. reocochran says:

    I am excited to read this since I am a person who loves words. I once upon a time was a Language Arts teacher for 6th graders. 🙂 I sometimes do wordplay on my posts. I also fight with my cell phone which has a mind of its own. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like this post. Great list. There is always one that escapes arrest.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice post. I did one like it recently. I need to look out for went to go, went to go, and the deadly went to go see about. And yes, it really does feel like your eyeballs and/or brain are bleeding. This, too, shall pass.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jake Waller says:

    Such an entertaining piece and invaluable advice – I’ll be scanning my work using your list. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love this post. I bookmarked it, my novel will be thankful.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. macjam47 says:

    Thank goodness, we don’t have word police for our everyday conversations. I am guilty.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. gillswriting says:

    OK My hands are up, I give in! I definitely needed this as yes I have been putting this part of the process off and off and off. Shared via writing group on FB. Loved it xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. OMG! Do you actually have any words left after you’ve done this?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha ha. Yes…a few. I’m always surprised by how many of these words can be deleted without making any difference to the meaning of a sentence. I don’t switch out all the weak verbs, but I cut them way back. I love this step and hate it at the same time. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  11. kabrown4 says:

    Reblogged this on A Young Writer's Notebook and commented:
    This is one of the worst parts of editing, but it’s a vital step that cannot be skipped.
    I actually find I have quite a phrases I tend to repeat: ‘to be honest’ being an example. I must write characters who are truthful. It without the reputation for it considering how often I have to cut it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Brilliant piece on wimpy verbs and other wordy aberrations from D. Wallace Peach on Myths of the Mirror.. very useful thanks Diana

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    A great post from Diana 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Kev says:

    Reblogged this on Kev's Great Indie Authors and commented:
    Loved this post… welcome to Kev’s Rollover Sunday, Diane!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. That was really thorough and thoroughly helpful, Diana. What a great list!! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  16. hsampson says:

    Hello D-! I invite you to take a look at this:
    Thanks you!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I am so happy I have my wife, she’s the one that chops and cuts my beautiful pieces of work. And I’ve learned to surrender to her, because she’s right like 99.99999% (at least when it comes to grammar!)
    I don’t think I could do this objectively, and is probably why I don’t let the wife read it while I’m writing it. It’s like a brand new story to her, every single one I write.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. As much as I love words, there is no way I would ever be able to write a book. Not only have you got to slog away writing it, you then have to cull half of it!! I am also way too fond of an adjective. Good luck to you though, it seems like you are getting there 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I’m afraid I’m guilty of over-using lame words. .I’ve had a “that” problem for years. I’ve also been known to abuse very. Right you are with that editor’s eye…great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. hsampson says:

    Very interesting D! As usual, thanks for this list!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Years ago, after teaching two adult fiction writing courses, I taught a one-day workshop for pre-teen writers. They brought in stories they’d written, complete with word counts next to the titles. Before we did anything with the stories, they had to cut 10% of their word count.
    (An editor once said that almost every first draft of a story could be automatically improved by 10%. Period.) After the exercise, I had the writers trade with each other and honestly evaluate if the 10% cut was better. Every one, without exception, said yes. Then we broke for lunch, talked about writing ideas and questions, and came back to the stories and got down to business.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. I got guiltier and guiltier the further I read on in this post. Then I got arrested. Apparently I can be bailed out with a 20,000 word piece containing no adverbs. Can anyone help me with one they made earlier?

    Liked by 4 people

  23. Erik says:

    I enjoyed the post and everyone’s comments equally thus far, and have jumped in here and there with my own thoughts. But I wanted to add one more stand-alone. “They’re a humorless bunch” (in reference to the Word Police) got an honest-to-Pete guffaw out of me. The version of that popular among my circle of friends is to shake one’s head with a piteous look and say, “Not a laugh in the carload”; so the fact that your “humorless bunch” were actually in a car … *sigh* (alas, I’m probably the only one that thinks it’s so darned hysterical).

    And, Diana, I usually try to save you the scores of emails by mentally “Like”-ing all of your comments, but not actually clicking them. But I just couldn’t help myself in this conversation. I’ve slapped my “Like” hand and will get it under control for the next post.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Good luck with all that, Diana, just thinking about all that is exhausting.☺

    Liked by 3 people

  25. This is really awesome! I usually read aloud and listen for repeats or sentences which don’t flow the way I would like, but I never thought of doing it systematically like that. It is also good to know that you as a seasoned writer still have to look for ingredients which add no nutritional value 😉. Encouraging!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m lightly salted. 😀 Give me ten more years and then perhaps I’ll feel seasoned. I read aloud too, several times, but later in my process. I’m still learning this craft, picking up tips and trying to improve with every book. I love how each lesson comes with a caveat to find our own path and make our own choices. This is so fun!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Erik says:

      This is crucial. While certain words or phrases used in isolation can become part of a signature voice, use those words and phrases more than twice in the same work, and attention gets drawn out of the story and to “the man (or woman) behind the curtain” – which we certainly do not want happening. Repetition is one of the biggest eject buttons that launches a reader out of story flow and crashing into a wall where the author looms large.

      Liked by 2 people

  26. Dawn D says:

    Interesting post! I understand how difficult it is even with a 2,000 words post, so cannot imagine what it’s like with a whole novel!
    And then, when you change things around, you have to make sure that you keep a certain consistency in your style… (and no, I’m NOT going to edit that last phrase of all those wimpy, lame, vague and generally weak words :-p

    Liked by 4 people

  27. Kev says:

    Oops! I’ve used some of those… not too many, I don’t think… but definitely some. Uh-oh. 😦

    Liked by 3 people

    • We all do! I am so guilty! And to be honest, they’re impossible to get rid of completely, and we wouldn’t want to. I’ve seem some crazy, contorted sentences in an effort to avoid certain words when just writing the darn word would have been much better. Writing is balance. So…no worries. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  28. C.E.Robinson says:

    Great post! Serious put in a humorous way. I’m scriptwriting right now, and all those word rules apply to the max. I’ve learned how to cut down word usage by tightening up dialogue. Christine

    Liked by 3 people

  29. Excellent post! I would be mortified if I ever analyzed my blog writing. 😀

    Liked by 4 people

  30. orangepondconnects says:

    The Word police can be such a drag lol

    Liked by 3 people

  31. Great post. This is another one for my reference file, along with Anne R. Allen’s latest blog post

    Thanks to both of you.

    Liked by 3 people

  32. balroop2013 says:

    I love the expression – ‘the word police’! Really enjoyed reading a serious message through the technique of humour. It is good to be ‘handcuffed’ by words, happy editing!

    Liked by 3 people

  33. Carrie Rubin says:

    Ah yes, the combing of the manuscript for weak and overused words. I seem to like using ‘look’ a lot. As in, ‘he looked at her, she looked at him, and the readers look at me wondering why all my characters are looking so much’. I usually have to thin that one down. And I seem to be a fan of the word ‘just’ too. Most of those end up getting the slash.

    Thanks for the list. Very useful. Some of these I hadn’t thought about.

    Liked by 4 people

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