Writing Secrets: What makes a verb strong?

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

I am constantly exhorting writers to avoid adverbs, but to use instead “strong verbs”. And they respond by saying, “Okay, but what is a strong verb, and how do we recognise it when we see it?”

At first I was at a loss to define it. I gave examples. I said, “You’ll know when you see one. You’ll just feel when it’s more powerful.” Which wasn’t very helpful.

The other day it came to me. I realised, with a flash, exactly what makes a strong verb. It’s the same reason some details are stronger than others, and some nouns are better, more vivid, more powerful.

The more specific they are, the better. “Walk” is fairly generic. It doesn’t tell us much beyond the fact that the character isn’t running. “Move” doesn’t give us much either. Does the creature slither, slide or lurch?

“Pull” is equally general in its description of a movement. You’d be a lot more specific if you chose tug, wrench or yank.

Think of the verb “fight”. It gives us absolutely no idea of what is happening. We don’t know what to conjure on our imaginary screens. If it’s an animal, does it strike, claw and hiss? If human, does he slash, scratch, punch or slap?

So that’s where your writing strength lies. Every word you use, every detail you choose, should be as precise and as specific as you can make it.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: The dramatic engine we call conflict

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