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.

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