Day Twenty-Four: Use Strong Verbs

(Day 24) Use Strong Verbs

After I wrote my first (terrible) draft of my first novel, I spent a couple of years learning everything I could about how to write a good story. Every time I learned something, I went and applied it to my entire manuscript.

The one thing I learned that changed my writing the most was how to use strong verbs.

A lot of times people confuse weak verbs with passive verbs. They aren’t the same thing.

A passive sentence looks like this:

The street was run down by Mary.

The story isn’t doing anything, right? It’s the subject of this sentence, but it’s just sitting there having something done to it by Mary.

The good news is you’re probably not really using passive tense in your writing.

The same sentence written in active tense, but with weak verbs looks like this:

Mary was running down the street.

Now the subject of the sentence is Mary and she’s doing something. She’s just doing it with pretty weak verbs.

And the same sentence with a stronger verb.

Mary ran down the street.

Simple past tense (or present tense) is almost always stronger than the combo of a to-be verb + an -ing verb.

You can, of course, make it even stronger by using a more precise verb.

Mary sprinted down the street.

Mary jogged down the street.

Mary tore down the street.

Mary stumbled down the street.

Mary skipped down the street.

See what I mean? Each of these nice, strong verbs adds something to the sentence, which adds something to the story.

If you use a strong verb, you take away the need for an adverb. You don’t need to write Mary ran quickly down the street if you use the verb “raced.”

There aren’t many technical assignments in this series, but this one is really important. It will improve your writing instantly.

ASSIGNMENT 24

Open your work in progress, or something else you’ve written. Search for the “-ing.” How many combinations of a to be verb and and -ing verb did you find? Could you use a simple, stronger verb instead? Start fixing them. I promise by the time you do that in a whole manuscript, you won’t use weak verbs anymore. (Or not as often. This exercise is still part of my editing process.)

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