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November 18, 2010 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill

Weve seen them,weveusedthem, those words that pull us back from the edge, that keep us from laying out our emotions, actions or descriptions in full, unapologetic fashion.

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

I call themhedge words.  As writers, we produce a scene and infuse it with passion and high tension and then, bam! we back off.  As if were ashamed of the emotion weve let loose.

seem(s)(ed)     a bit             almost         mostly

a little             nearly           perhaps       kind of

somewhat       sort of           any             possibly

maybe            suppose         probably      might

apparently      some             a touch        a tad

partially         partly            sometimes    hardly

Why not sayGinger smelled like a cesspool after an outbreak of flurather thanGinger smelleda bitlike a cesspool. . . ?

He waskind oflike 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 was pissed off.  Or even better,Angus kicked the door in.

Hedge words are notwrongwords.  Any of these can be used and used effectively.  For example, in one story, Angussseeming agitationcould be a good use of sarcasm. But 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 andlet your characters speak and act freely, without a censor.  Youre 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 tolet 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 someones mouth.  Dont hold back.

Take out uncertainty and the blahs and commit to the certain and unequivocal.

See if writing in absolutes, with both writer and characters pushing for bolder and the explicit, doesnt add both life and depth to your work.

If a character hedges as part of his personality, then let him hedge, of course. But show that the hedging is a quirk of his, not yours. And you might want to show how such a quirk either hinders or helps him.

But as for you, go for the bold and sure in your words.  Search out hedge words where you didnt commit and see if a change in wording doesnt give the scene life and power. This is a great time to go all out, to create stories and fictional characters who stand out.

Write bold action and dialogue and compelling narrative. Turn off the censor and cut out the hedge words.

Tags:writing advicePosted in:Craft & StyleWriting Tips

This is one I have to watch for, especially when describing the size of a thing (not, not THAT thing!) Its too easy for me to say a bit bigger than a bread box or almost the size of a quarter.

Kat, I think its easy for all of us to do thatwe say those kinds of things often. But they weaken a scene when we throw them into our fiction.

Not always, of course. But more often than not.

So maybe its notonlyabout the words. Its about syntax. And plot. And action. Its voice and pacing and dialogue…

Its about putting the words together to touch, to entertain, to move the reader.

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The reader will focus on what stands out. Turn the readers attention whereyouwant it to go.

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