Verbs, you sexy things you. I love you. Marry me.
I could sing you sonnets about how much I appreciate verbs. It is the single most effective word to create change in your sentence. Don’t believe me. Watch this magic trick!
Sally May walked across the cafeteria and said, “What are you doing?”
Change the verbs and PRESTO:
Sally May stormed across the cafeteria and snarled, “What are you doing?”
How did you imagine Sally May in the first sentence. Passive? Easy-going? Everything is chill and fine. With two words, I’ve completely changed the feel of the entire situation. Now, Sally is clearly angry, and it’s about to go down.
We talk a lot of about adjectives and whether or not you should kill adverbs with fire, but let me tell you: Verbs are where it’s really at. Am I against adjectives and adverbs? Absolutely not! (See there!) Their role is indispensable. But they aren’t always needed, and verbs always are. (If you're not using verbs in your sentence, we need to have another conversation altogether).
Your writing can be stronger with choosing verbs more thoughtfully and intentionally (there are those adverbs again!).
Here are five ways that you can use verbs to improve your writing.
#5: IT CAN MAKE YOUR WRITING MORE CONCISE.
After having to edit a book from 150,000 words to 99,000 (KILL ME!), I am now a big believer that if you can say something in five words instead of ten, you should say it that way. To do this, we must force every word to work hard. We cannot do this without using an active verb that pulls its weight.
Take this passage from my own rough draft, unedited:
Original: Brianna sweeps angrily at a stray tear and steps determinedly through the door.
Ugh, I cringed when I read this one. All those -ly
With a little edit:
Edited: Brianna swats at a stray tear and strides through the door.
The same thing that the above GIF says about adjectives is true of verbs. Brianna doesn't step determinedly. She strides. Strengthening a single verb can eliminate one or two or even more unnecessary words.
#4: IT CAN EXPRESS CHARACTER PERSONALITY.
Let’s imagine a new character is walking onto stage this very moment. How are they walking? What does that tell you about them? Let’s play around with some verbs, and see how we can help our readers get to know our character just with the right verb.
Sophia prances onto the stage.
What does this say about Sophia? She’s lively, confident, fun, maybe even a little conceited. But in that first sentence, we have an idea of the kind of person Sophia is. Now let’s change the verb.
Sophia trudged onto the stage.
Now who is Sophia? Sad, glum, maybe. She certainly doesn’t want to be here on this stage.
Think about your character. Are they the kind to sweep, dance, sashay, saunter, stomp, toddle, meander, stroll?
How about the way they talk? Do they sing, groan, chatter, drawl, drone, squeak? Do they laugh, giggle, snicker, roar, crow?
Each of the words brought an image of some type of personality to your mind. You show your reader more with the right verb, than a paragraph of telling.
Which brings us into the next point…
#3: THE RIGHT VERB CAN SHOW, INSTEAD OF TELL.
We always hear it over and over again. Show, don’t tell. And I'll be the first to say 'Yeah, but' ... Sometimes telling is necessary, but showing should be the prominent choice.
Even though there is a lot more to showing then verbs, they go a long way in showing vivid imagery. Make them do some grunt work.
Her heart was sad.
Terrible...in so many ways. Let's fix it.
Her heart sank.
This went from telling us an emotion to showing us the emotion. We all know the feeling of our heart sinking.
A tip from a professional editor: A professional editor recently advised me that, though it’s not always possible to get rid of ‘was’, you should when you can. By getting rid of ‘was’ in the verb, a sentence will grow stronger.