The Dangers of Hedge Words in your Writing.

A bit of humility is a good thing in real life. When writing it is far less valuable. It is vital for the writer to sound confident. This means doing something I don't generally like to do and speak in absolutes. But it's OK. If you're writing fiction you are the absolute authority so what you say is true. One of the things this requires is to remove hedge words because nothing drains the away the power of your story like hedge words.


I'll start with a list of hedge words that I find myself using often in first drafts. They include: probably, mostly, hopefully, perhaps, maybe, might, sometimes and almost. There are of course more, but you get the idea. These are words that hedge what you are saying. I'll give a couple of quick examples, "he was probably the best in the world" is far weaker than "he was the best in the world." Or how about "Perhaps she was" rather than "she was."


But while both of those examples are made far stronger by removing the hedge word that doesn't mean that hedge words are bad. First, if you are describing what a character sees or thinks they may be less confident than the writer. This isn't typically a good trait in a character but it can be an important one.


More importantly, hedge words can be useful when describing something. "He was nearly beautiful" is different than " he was beautiful" and gives a far better idea of what he looks like, leading to a great leaping off point to describe what limited his beauty. But this is the exception. Most of the time when I use those words it's because I'm unsure of my writing and need to both remove them and if possible discover why they were there.


For me this most often happens when I'm not confident about the direction of my story. Perhaps there is a plot twist I'm not sure will work or a potential solution I'm ignoring. Whatever it is that hedge words are also a signal to the reader and they'll begin to feel less confident in the story as well. That will lead them to look for plot holes and mistakes and if you're looking you'll find them. Imagine this situation, you're about to do something dangerous and your cohort says, "the plan should work." You're not going to say great let's go, you're going to ask what he means by saying should. On the other hand, say "the plan was foolproof," and the reader might take you at your word.


Hedge words are difficult, if not impossible to remove entirely from your writing. The seep into first drafts like weeds. But the good news is that they are also one of the easiest things to remove from your writing. In most cases they can be plucked out without much thought because they weren't doing anything but signaling a lack of confidence in the first place. That isn't your job as a writer. You're job is to be powerful and confident. You are the creator. Your word is law, don't make it a wishy-washy law that no one cares about.