Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Use Active Verbs When You Write

The photo has nothing to do with today's topic. It's Tuesday and the flowers made me smile, so enjoy this Happy Tuesday offering above.

I critiqued the first chapter of a book for another writer today. Her book is historical fiction for 11-15 year old readers. Overall, she offered a good opening chapter--hooked me and left me wanting to read more. I noticed her choice of verbs. She does not have the problem that so many writers do--using an overabundance of passive verbs.

Instead, she chose active verbs and ones that showed something about the subject, whether a person or place or whatever. I suspect that she has trained herself to do write with these more interesting verbs. It's far easier to use those passive ones like is, was, are. We sometimes get lazy when we write, especially in first drafts as we are intent on getting the story down, not worrying about the kind of verbs we use.

But, if we work at it, we can search for the active verb first. Then, even our first drafts will look better. If we make a real effort to use active verbs in abundance, it becomes a habit. A very good habit, I might add. It's still worthwhile to pay close attention to the types of verbs you use when you are doing an edit. Replace as many passive ones as you can.

Try this exercise with some of your own writing. Pull up something you've written and highlight every passive verb in it. Are you a bit overwhelmed when you see the slashes of yellow throughout? Now, go through the piece and substitute active verbs in as many places as possible. Note that you can't always insert that one word in place of the passive verb. You might have to rearrange your sentence order to make it work.

Are you ever going to have a whole story or article without a passive verb? No. But you can cut down the number considerably. If you do, you will probably have a more interesting piece of writing. Your piece will have more showing than telling because active verbs show us something. Your story will also become more interesting to your readers.

Need help finding the right verb? Turn to that trusty Thesaurus gathering dust on your bookshelf--or one that is online. Or put your imagination to work to come up with better verbs. The more often you do this, the easier it will become.

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