Thursday, May 3, 2012

Strengtheining your Writing... With Verb Choice

One way to strengthen your writing is through verb choice. For your first draft, just get the words down. Then go back over it and look to replace the weak and repetitive verbs.

Replace Weak Verbs

Last time I spoke about adverbs, including how adverbs are often used in an effort to make a weak verb sound stronger. Usually a better option is to use a stronger verb and lose the adverb.

For example, "walk" is a perfectly fine verb. But it's also vague. One way to let the reader know how someone is walking is to use an adverb.
  • He walked drunkenly into the room.
  • He walked quietly into the room.
  • He walked steadily into the room.
  • He walked heavily into the room.
All get their point across. But not as well as using a stronger verb that conveys the same meaning.

Instead of having your character walk steadily, have him plod into the room. Instead of him walking drunkenly, have him stumbling or teetering. If he's actually drunk, that can be either mentioned or hinted at in the storyline.

Rather than walking quietly, he could be creeping or stealing into the room. Choose accompanying verbs that fit your character or scene to enhance the imagery.
  • Larry crept in after the bell and slid into his seat while the teacher's back was turned.
  • Michael stole through the side door, slinked down the hallway, and peeked into the first open doorway.
Alternatives to walking heavily, are stomping, thundering, or trudging. Each of these verbs has a different shade of meaning, each more powerful and more descriptive than walking heavily.

Replace Repetitive Verbs

Do your characters smile? Mine do. A lot. But I don't want to keep saying, "He smiled. She smiled. They smiled." How many times can we use the word smile on one page or one scene, or even in one chapter, before it become tiresome or boring?

To avoid boring repetition use variations of the same verb. Your characters can beam, grin, laugh, or smirk.

But don't stop there. We can find new ways to say the same thing, ways that can be very telling about our character, giving the reader subtle insights into the character's personality or thoughts.

For instance, when he notices a certain someone, our character might break into a grin. Or, the grin might instead creep across his face. Or maybe it only flashes across his face. All three are better choices than to say that he noticed her and grinned, and all three give an insight into how the character feels.

Combined with the appropriate accompanying text you can shine even more light onto what his emotions are. For example, when the grin creeps across his face he could be fighting how he feels, only becoming aware of how he feels, or he could be a creep himself and thinking of some terrible thing he could do to her.

 What about you? Do you have advice for choosing verbs that can strengthen your writing? I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Strengthing Your Writing... By Using Adverbs in Moderation

My second blog post included a list of tips for strengthening your writing. The following week, I wrote about the fist topic in that list: dialogue. Then I took rather long break. But now I'm back, and I intend to write every week. This week I'll discuss using (or not using) adverbs.

Adverb Use

Adverbs are words that modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Consider the following sentence:

     Adverbs are often lovely words, and usually end in -ly.

Did you spot the two adverbs? If you guessed lovely and  usually--nice try, but you'd be wrong. Usually is an adverb, but lovely is an adjective (it modifies a noun). The other adverb is often--it modifies the adjective lovely.

Adverbs often tell how or when something is done:
  • He sang beautifully.
  • She walked haphazardly through the town.
  • He struggled daily with his addiction.
  • I immediately answered the phone.

Adverb Abuse

Adverbs can be very useful. They can also lead to lazy writing. Instead of spending the time to come up with verbs that give the exact meaning you want to convey, it's tempting to simply modify a more common verb.

For example, you can say, "He walked quickly into the room," and make your general point. But consider some verb choices that can convey the exact meaning you want. Here are some possibilities:
  • He hurried into the room.
  • He scurried into the room.
  • He rushed into the room.
  • He raced into the room.
  • He darted into the room.
  • He scampered into the room.
In each example above, the nuance could be slightly different depending on what's happening in the story, or even depending on your character's personality. A hero-type would be more likely to race or rush. A mousey-type might prefer to scamper or scurry. But a very busy person might also scamper or scurry, as would someone who's always fussing about.

Avoid Overuse

If you overuse adverbs your writing can become tiring. Consider the following (thankfully) short passage:

"He walked hurriedly into the dining hall, looking about anxiously for a familiar face, nervously hoping he'd eventually see someone he knew. He stopped suddenly, and slowly began to grin. There, alone at the far table, twisting uneasily in her chair, sat Lisa Hornswallow. He walked decisively in her direction. She knew even less people here than he did. She'd gladly agree to let him join her."

Okay, that's a little bit overdone. But even if you don't do it that heavy-handed it can get annoying after just a few pages. Even if you use colorful adverbs.

By choosing stronger verbs you can get rid of most of the adverbs. Better verb choice can also allow you to condense some of the sentences. Also, try thinking of a different way to phrase or arrange things. Here's one way to get the same feelings across with less words and a lot less adverbs:

"He rushed into the dining hall and glanced about, eyes straining to spot a familiar face. There. A grin crept across his face. Alone at the far table, Lisa Hornswallow fidgeted in her seat. He strode in her direction. She knew even less people here than he did; of course she'd be glad to see him."

Think of adverbs as salt. A little can do a lot to improve the flavor of your writing, but if you add too much--yuk!

What about you? Do you tend to use lot of adverbs in your writing. Do you think you could strengthen your writing with a strong verb or a turn of a phrase?