Strong Verbs Equal Strong Writing
By Jennifer Slattery
There’s a common held misconception among new writers, and that is the idea that writing should come easily. Initially, I believe it does, until you begin to learn the nuts and bolts of the craft. Over time, as you analyze your writing in view of in-depth critiques, you’ll soon learn the importance of intentionality–in everything. Every detail, every introspection offered, every word choice, must advance the story. Otherwise it occupies needless space and threatens glossy-eyed syndrome.
Replacing weak verbs, like “was going,” “were thinking,” and “walked” with strong verbs turns a drab sentence into a vibrant, emotive, powerful one.
Here are some quick, easy ways to add strength to your story:
1) Show no mercy: annihilate helping verbs and replace them with action verbs.
Linking verbs like be, am, is, are, was, were, been, and being, provide limited information. They’re colorless and weak.
Most often, these can be eliminated by changing the “ing” form of the verb to its past tense form.
Ex: “She was walking to the store” becomes, “She walked to the store.”
Or, “I am sitting” becomes, “I sat.”
2) Replace ordinary action verbs with descriptive verbs.
Let’s look back on “walked” or “sat” in our previous example. Envision someone walking. What do you see? Not much. What if this person shuffled? Sauntered? Strolled? Strode? Each of these verbs provide a different image, adding emotion to the action.
The same applies to sat. We all sit, whether we’re angry, sad, happy, or scared. But when do you plop in a chair? Or slump, or perch? See? Suddenly your dreary, lifeless sentence conveys emotion.
Let’s look at an example:
Sarah walked to the store. Janice approached wearing a blue dress with many flowers. She was tall and had her hair tied in bows. When they met, Janice said, ”Hi.” Sarah smiled. They talked for a moment, then Janice left and Sarah continued walking.
What if we visited our thesaurus and replaced some of those ordinary verbs with stronger ones? (A rather rushed example, but it should help you visualize my point.)
Sarah skipped to the store. Janice strolled toward her, donning a blue dress dotted with flowers. Standing at 6 feet tall, with her hair secured in bows, she blocked the mid-afternoon sun. Merging into the center of the sidewalk, Janice chirped hello. Sarah’s face stretched into a smile. They chatted for a moment, then Janice waved goodbye and Sarah resumed her trek.
Now your turn. How many different ways can you rewrite the example paragraph? Feel free to embellish with details.
Jennifer Slattery lives with her husband and their teenage daughter. In 2009 she won the HACWN writing contest in the book category, and placed second in the 2010 Dixie Kane writing contest in the inspirational category. She placed fourth in the 2010 Golden Pen and third in the 2010 Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest.
She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, The ACFW Journal, The Christian Pulse, Internet Cafe Devotions, and Jewels of Encouragement. Working under Tiffany Colter, the Writing Career Coach, Jennifer enjoys helping other writers strengthen their manuscripts through critiques and beta-reads. She also co-hosts Living by Grace, a modern-day “meet at the well” Facebook community. Visit her online at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com.