Ernest Hemingway felt that strong verbs and specific nouns made prose come alive far more than adjective and adverbs. I have to say that I agree. So what’s the big deal about verbs anyway? I’m gad you asked.
As you know, verbs express motion. They not only describe action, but they also give your prose the feel of movement. Verbs help move your story forward. Strong, evocative verbs will bring your writing to life. But beware: weak verbs will make it fizzle or drag.
So what makes a verb strong? A strong verb is precise in its expression, giving a clear image, and is interesting. Let’s look at some examples.
The boy ran out of the kitchen.
The boy bolted out of the kitchen.
The rabbit ate the carrot.
The rabbit munched on the carrot.
The cat slept in the windowsill.
The cat dozed in the windowsill.
Do you see how the weaker verbs are more general while the stronger verbs are more specific? They give the reader a more vivid image. They also have a certain feel.
Consider the rabbit munching on the carrot– it sounds cute and dainty. But if the rabbit were instead devouring the carrot, it would sound more desperate and eager. Both influence our impression of the rabbit. You can use strong verbs not only to manipulate the image you want the reader to have, but the emotions you want him to feel.
I’ve noticed a lot of beginning writers tend to gravitate towards weaker, more common verbs. Especially looked and walked. Instead of looked, how about: glanced, peered, peeked, glared, gazed, stared, studied or squinted? Instead of walked, how about: hiked, strolled, stepped, wandered, ambled, strode, paced, or sauntered?
Don’t neglect your verbs–take advantage of every opportunity to give your writing more umph. Does this mean you can never use verbs like looked or walked? Certainly not! But use them sparingly. If you can find a better verb, use that one instead.
Now go forth, and seek out the weak verbs in your writing. Kill them off as mercilessly as Lord Voldemort would Avada-Kedavra anyone who made fun of his nose (or rather, lack thereof).
Advice from the Quills:
Keep a thesaurus handy to browse a variety of verb options. If you don’t like flipping through a thesaurus, Thesaurus.com is a quick and simple alternative.
Do you tend to use weak or strong verbs in your writing?
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