Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pump Up Your Writing: Using Strong Verbs

As a writer, you hear that you ought to avoid adverbs. That you shouldn't include strings of adjectives, or cliches. One way to do all three is to strengthen the verbs you use.


There are plain-vanilla verbs, and there are Rocky Road-with-chocolate-sauce-and-whipped-cream-verbs. The verbs you choose will make a difference  in your fiction.


Sentences that use walked, sat, and thought pale in comparison to stalked, sprawled, and stewed. However, don't label yourself as a failure if strong verbs don't automatically show up in your manuscript. Adding stronger verbs is something you do in your rewriting.


The purpose of your first draft is to get the story on the page, in all it's unedited glory. Once you've got it down, you can analyze it for overuse of adverbs, adjectives, cliches--and wimpy verbs.


Here are a few resources to help you tackle the job.


Dragon Writing Prompts has compiled a massive list of 1000 strong verbs to take the place of weak ones. The list is grouped by verb: for example, she has dozens of strong verbs to use in place of "walked" or "ran". I'm planning to print out the list and keep it handy. And Coherent Visual has a similar, downloadable list in both Word and .pdf formats.


Charlotte Rains Dixon posted a two-part post on strong verbs. The first is What is a strong verb?, and the second continues with How to ferret out strong verbs.


Creative Juices Books lists seven reasons why strong verbs are important (and when to use passive verbs).


Carolyn Jewel shares why strong verbs help you write with strength and specificity, and why "to be" should be your verb of last resort.


Bob and Jack's writing blog gives a number of great examples of both strong and weak verbs.


Give it a try right now. Take a random page of your manuscript and highlight every verb on the page. Count how many are "plain vanilla" and substitute some stronger verbs. When you read it again, how much better is it?



12 comments:

  1. I have heard this before, and it's a good idea to practice the replacement of strong verbs during the rewrite/first-pass editing stage. It really does make the manuscript better.

    Thanks for the advice!

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  2. You're so welcome. Anything I end up writing about is really a reminder to myself! :)

    ~Debbie

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  3. Hi Debbie,
    I caught your blog visit to Bob and Jack's Writing Blog. Your ideas about sharing writerly info is our goal--as you can see the subtitle is Making Good Writing Better. So--how about a cross link between our blogs? Let us know and we'll cut you into our blog roll.

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  4. I'd love to put you on my blog roll--just as soon as I put one up! In the meantime, as I've checked out your site, I think I'll feature your blog tomorrow. I usually focus on a writer's group or great author website on Thursdays. Hope you won't mind!

    ~Debbie

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  5. Hi Debbie,
    Just dropping by to say hi. We get quite a few clicks from your website. Thanks for posting, thanks for keeping us alive.
    Jack Remick
    Bob and Jack's Writing Blog

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks, Jack. You guys have so much to offer. I'm happy to highlight you!

    ~Debbie

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  7. Thank you so much Debbie!!! I am a screenwriter and a novelist. Sometimes it's so hard not to repeat the same boring verbs over and over. Your blog has probably helped me, more than the four agonizing years I've spent in school. Thank you again, for posting!!!
    ~Christina

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  8. A google search of "Strong Verbs" led me to your website. How wonderful to find you. I am a homeschool mom of three (two are in college and one is still at home). Freelance writing is done while the rice boils at my house too! Glad to meet a kindred spirit. :)

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  9. So happy to meet you, too, Sally! Thanks for stopping by. : )

    ~Debbie

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  10. Debbie - I am a 4th grade teacher in Texas. May I use this article to help motivate my young writers? We are in crunchtime for the state test,while also trying to instill a love of writing. Let me know :-)

    Carrie

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  11. Debbie - I am a 4th grade teacher in Texas. May I use this article to help motivate my young writers? We are in crunchtime for the state test,while also trying to instill a love of writing. Let me know :-)

    Carrie

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sure thing, Carrie! I'm happy for you to use it, with the blog address included. Hope it helps! (I'm a school teacher, too. Fourth grade was my favorite grade to teach.)

    ~Debbie

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