Making Every Verb Count
by April Gardner
As I write the first draft of a novel, I force myself to ignore strong verbs. The first draft is only a skeleton of what will come, that pathetic, meatless version of the final product. Later, during the “gazillion” edits, I scour my thesaurus for the perfect verb for each sentence. It’s an essential step in the writing process.
You’ll find a variety of excellent action verbs in author Tina Pinson’s Clash of the Titles excerpt. She applies a good many strong verbs, but I bolded only the meatiest.
Spurred by inner wells of terror, Kaitlin raced for the doors. She groped for the handle, ignoring the pain. The timbers that secured the awning crashed, splinters of flame flickered like fireflies around her head, and fell to her skirts like droplets of orange rain. She stopped momentarily to brush her skirts and continued past the obstacle. Moving on, ignoring the rush of heat, she screamed for her husband, her child. Her legs ignited with heat, her lungs burned with the smell of seared flesh. She pushed on through the maze of lashing flames, ignoring the screams behind her.
For full excerpt, click HERE.
Why use strong verbs? For three main reasons:
1. Strong verbs show vs. tell.
Weak Verb: Kaitlin felt her legs burning. OR Kaitlin’s legs burned.
Strong Verb: Her legs ignited with heat.
Avoid using “sense” words—saw, heard, felt, etc. Instead, use verbs that portray the sense in a specific way, such as “ignite.” Ignite depicts sudden, intense eruption versus the more vague “burn.”
2. Strong verbs tighten your writing.
Weak Verb: She reached blindly for the handle.
Strong Verb: She groped for the handle.
A strong verb eliminates the need for the verb/adverb combo. As a bonus, it reduces word count, and that’s usually a good thing!
3. Strong verbs keep your writing active vs. passive.
Weak Verb: Her skirt was covered in droplets of orange rain from the splinters of flame that flickered like fireflies around her head.
Strong Verb: Splinters of flame flickered like fireflies around her head, and fell to her skirts like droplets of orange rain.
Did you notice the absence of “being” verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) in Tina’s excerpt? In this example, I removed the action from the flame by adding the being verb “was.” Being verbs are rarely useful in fiction.
Let’s have a little fun. Rewrite the following sentences exchanging the weak verbs for strong.
Marianne ran swiftly to catch the bus.
The roller coaster ride was only half-way over when Max felt sick.
Certain his team could win the tug-of-war, Paul dug in his heels and pulled harder on the rope.