Verbs–I know for most of us, the word ‘verb’ brings up traumatic memories from middle school grammar worksheets. But, any writer knows that a verb is the hinge a powerful sentence swings on. Without a great verb, there are no great sentences…and playing around with verbs in your writing can actually be a fun challenge. So, how can we use verbs to elevate and enliven our writing?
- Avoid the same old same old.
When editing, carve out time to look exclusively at verbs. Are you using the same ones over and over? Are you using verbs that other people use often? If so, are there better alternatives? When explaining things, writers tend to use the verb ‘show’ frequently, when there are tons of options that are more specific and creative, such as reveal, highlight, reinforce, manifest (and so many more!).
In dialogue, we tend to use ‘say,’ ‘state,’ and ‘ask’ frequently, which leaves the reader guessing as to tone and feeling. How about whisper, gasp,
affirm, demand, suggest….to name a few options!
- Get out of the past and keep it simple!
Writing in past tense can really drag your narrative down and slow down the pace for your reader–in a bad way. (Think about it: if Jan runs…we’re cheering her on and running with her; if Jan has already run, the fun is over for the reader.) Also, past tense verbs can involve a lot of those pesky helping verbs which make our writing overly wordy and wastes valuable reading time on useless words. Of course, past tense is necessary at times, but usually very rarely. Keeping our writing in the present keeps the reader in the plot with us.
- Go where the action is.
Oh, the linking verb. The scourge of the English language. Linking verbs always lurk around waiting to make nothing happen in our sentences. Just as editing for over using some verbs helps with our writing, so does editing to make sure we aren’t using too many linking verbs (in case you need a reminder: am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being).
To keep readers engaged, we need ACTION. Linking verbs have a tendency to pile up in our writing, the way laundry piles up on the couch. Usually, a simple rewording can solve a sneaky linking verb problem.
Contributed by Melissa McDaniel, Guest Blogger