Showing posts with label strong verbs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label strong verbs. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 7

Writing Exercise: Flexing Your Verbs

Writing Exercise: Flexing Your Verbs

Lately I've been doing a few writing exercises.

I'm going through my favorite books--books by Dashell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, but also newer ones. I love Laurrel Hamilton's Guilty Pleasures. I'll write out a passage I love then rewrite it attempting to use the author's voice.

Melissa Tudell in her article Energize Your Writing With This Easy Trick, advises writers to focus on using active verbs.

1. Be Direct

Avoid "to be" verbs like: is, am, are, was, were, be, being and been.

2. Use active verbs

Rather than use adjectives and adverbs to describe an action, use a strong verb. Here's Melissa's example:

Weak: He quickly poured a cup of coffee.
Strong: He dumped coffee into the mug.

It's interesting that the strong verb comes with a tradeoff. "Dumped" implies carelessness as well as speed.

3.  Let it all fly on your first draft

Debbie Maxwell Allen admonishes writers not to worry about strong verbs when writing their first draft.

She writes:
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. (Pump Up Your Writing: Using Strong Verbs)
Debbie ends her article with a challenge:
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?
I'm going to do that!

Other articles you might like:

- Chuck Wendig's 9 Tips For Writing A Million Words A Year
- Chuck Wendig On Finding Your Voice
- How To Get Over A Destructive Critique

Photo credit: "cute" by CarbonNYC under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, August 18

Spice Up Your Writing: The Passive Voice & Eliminating Passive Verbs

Spice Up Your Writing: The Passive Voice & Elimiating Passive Verbs

Elizabeth S. Craig writes about passive verbs:
What people sometimes confuse as passive voice is really the use of static verbs instead of dynamic (or active) verbs.  But frequently editors will ask you to reword sentences with static verbs because you could write a stronger sentence with dynamic verbs. Journalist Constance Hale wrote an interesting article for the New York Times in April about static and dynamic verbs and some subcategories of each (I loved her list of wimpy verbs.)

Although hunting down “to be” words isn’t necessarily going to help you create active voice sentence structure, if you have a lot of linking verbs in your story, you might want to make sure you’re showing, not telling.  So even though Anna was mad isn’t passive, it might make for stronger writing for you to say Anna slammed John’s plate on the table in front of him, making green peas fly off.  Frequently, when writers talk about finding linking verbs in their manuscript, they’re really advising us to avoid using weak verbs.
Read the rest of Elizabeth's article here: Passive Voice with Elizabeth S Craig.

If you're looking for a good article on the passive voice and how to avoid wimpy sentences I highly recommend Elizabeth's article. 

Another great article on how to avoid passive sentences is the one Elizabeth recommended: Make-or-Break Verbs by Constance Hale. Here's a sampling:
Fundamentally, verbs fall into two classes: static (to be, to seem, to become) and dynamic (to whistle, to waffle, to wonder). (These two classes are sometimes called “passive” and “active,” and the former are also known as “linking” or “copulative” verbs.) Static verbs stand back, politely allowing nouns and adjectives to take center stage. Dynamic verbs thunder in from the wings, announcing an event, producing a spark, adding drama to an assembled group.
. . . .
Power Verbs Dynamic verbs are the classic action words. They turn the subject of a sentence into a doer in some sort of drama. But there are dynamic verbs — and then there are dynamos. Verbs like has, does, goes, gets and puts are all dynamic, but they don’t let us envision the action. The dynamos, by contrast, give us an instant picture of a specific movement. Why have a character go when he could gambol, shamble, lumber, lurch, sway, swagger or sashay? Picking pointed verbs also allows us to forgo adverbs. Many of these modifiers merely prop up a limp verb anyway. Strike speaks softly and insert whispers. Erase eats hungrily in favor of devours. And whatever you do, avoid adverbs that mindlessly repeat the sense of the verb, as in circle around, merge together or mentally recall.
This reminds me of the advice Stephen King repeated gave in his book On Writing to use strong verbs and, as much as possible, avoid the use of adverbs and even adjectives.

Good writing!

Other articles you might like:
- Stephen King: 15 tips on how to become a better writer
- What To Write About: Fiction That Sells  
- Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments

Photo credit: photo by Vincepal on Flickr