Thursday, December 17, 2015

Can Santa Help With Using Better Verbs?

You might ask Santa to gift you with some ways to make your writing better. Until he comes, here's something you might work on yourself.

We all use many passive verbs in everyday conversation. Consider how many times you include the words was, is, were or some variation of them. We do it subconsciously as a method of economizing our speech. Those words are short and we know the point of what we’re saying lies in the words that surround those bland verbs.

But as writers, we need to find verbs that show the reader something, verbs that bring out sensory details. Using too many passive verbs is the mark of a new writer. I profess to guilt in that department, too, when I first started writing. Besides the passive verbs. there are some that are rather mundane or boring--used too often. Using an abundance of passive or boring verbs comes under the heading of Lazy Writing.

Which of the following sentences are more interesting? Which ones give a mental picture to the reader?

A. She is sad.
B. Sadness engulfed her.

A. We went to the beach.
B. We motored to the beach.

A. We were hot in the sun.
B. We roasted in the blazing sun.

A. Alice turned around, her skirt moved, too.
B. Alice twirled until her skirt billowed.

The B sentences all bring a mental picture to mind and allow the reader to get into the scene far better than those passive verbs in the A sentences. In the final set, A has semi-active verbs, what we might call weak verbs. Again, the ones used in B are far more interesting and give a more vivid picture.

When you finish the first draft of a story or essay, look through it and mark the passive verbs with a highlighter. You might be shocked to see how many there are sprinkled throughout your story. Then try to find active verbs to replace them. Use a thesaurus if you need some help. Read your work from beginning to end and you’ll see how much stronger and more interesting it sounds. Work on using active verbs whenever possible. 

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