Okay, everyone! This post is probably going to be a little bit shorter because of the subject matter, but we’re going to be taking a look at strong verbs, how to choose them, and why they matter. This is a pretty important subject to discuss since the words you choose have a big impact on what your reader takes away from your story. So, let’s dive right in!
Why Do Strong Verbs Matter?
First off, they matter because they’re going to make your writing sound and appear more polished. Choosing the right word to give your reader the right image makes you stand out. When another writer uses run and you use sprint, you stand out because you have used a word that gets at what you really mean. It sounds more mature.
Reason two? Imagery is everything in writing. Your reader must be able to envision what you are writing. If they can’t visualize it, they’re going to lose interest in most cases. Strong verbs help you to accomplish that purpose. When combined with descriptive and precise nouns to name the things in your scenes, strong verbs are able to bring the words on the page to life for the reader. It also makes it less work for them as they immerse themselves in your story. That’s a good thing because they’re more likely to want to stay immersed in the story!
And the final reason? Besides just sounding professional and besides bringing the scene to life for the reader, strong verbs help to eliminate wordiness and get the point across the first time. You don’t need as many of those pesky “ly” adverbs that writing instructors constantly warn against if you’re using strong verbs. Generally, a lack of strong verbs or descriptive nouns results in an overuse of those adjectives and adverbs that instructors complain about. If you address the actual issue at hand, you won’t have the symptom of it anymore. Pretty nice, right?
What is a Strong Verb?
Before we go any further, let’s talk about what a strong verb is. Most people don’t ponder their word choices very often if at all. Unless they just can’t find the word to fit, they stick with whatever comes to mind first. This, sadly, results in common and dull word choices that don’t describe much of anything. Here’s a quick list of some of the common verbs people will use instead of strong verbs.
Okay, you probably get the idea. All of these are weak verbs because they are generic. It doesn’t mean you can never use them, but they certainly shouldn’t make up the entirety of your piece. If you stop and think about it, what image do you get from these words? Run, walk, sit, smile… Those are broad words that could encompass all kinds of ways of doing those things. For example, running could encompass sprinting or a slow, measured run for long-distance. Walking could mean walking fast or strolling along. Sitting… Well, don’t get me started on the number of ways a person can sit! Same goes for a smile. Not every smile is the same, so why would you use only one word to show your character’s smile to the reader?
Hopefully, if you didn’t already see the problem, you do now. Weak verbs, while they can in some cases be necessary, are generally not the best option you have available to you. You want to choose words that are strong, words that are specific. Here are just a few words that could replace the list above.
1. Perch, settle, sink, rest, nestle
2. Meander, stroll, pace, prance, skip
3. Sprint, jog, race, trot, dash, dart
4. Grin, beam, simper, leer, smirk, sneer
See how each of these more specific verbs evokes a particular image in our minds? For example, when we say someone beamed, we know that means they gave a really enthusiastic, happy smile. But if I tell you someone smirked or leered at me? Well… You get an entirely different mental picture there. That’s the power of using strong verbs.
How to Find Strong Verbs
It’s fine to start with a general verb for what you’re trying to convey meaning-wise. Just don’t stay there. Use a thesaurus or online dictionary to find synonyms for the word you’re thinking of using. Consider the list and ask yourself if anything would fit in better than the general word. When doing this, be sure to think about what readers will understand. Don’t pick a $10 word if the $5 one works just as well and is better-known. While it’s fine for a reader to need to look up a word or two here and there, you don’t want them to need a dictionary just to read your story! So be sensible when you’re choosing strong verbs and go with your gut. If you were the reader, what would you best understand? Use that question to evaluate the words and choose accordingly.
Although it is a little more time-consuming to find strong verbs to lend vivacity to your writing, you should be investing that time anyway. It will be time well-spent because it lends a maturity to your writing that other writers who don’t do this will lack. Plus, you learn new vocabulary along the way, so it’s an exercise with multiple benefits!
Have questions or something to add? Or maybe you have a topic to suggest for a future Thursday Technicalities post? Feel free to leave those in the comments below or email me at arielpaiement@gmail. com with them! I do my best to respond to each question or comment.