LESSON #4:

MIKE SHULTZ’S WRITING ADVICE


BANISHING BORING WORDS
or
TURNING WEAK CRAP INTO WRITING WITH SNAP




"Walk" is a completely serviceable word, and your writing isn't crap if you use it. You could do worse. But in many cases, you could also do better:

Weak: Sally went across the room.
Tolerable: Sally walked across the room.
Better: Sally ambled across the room.

But did she amble? That implies casual liesure. What if she's arrogant, or in a confrontation?

Sally strutted across the room.

What if she's tired or depressed?

Sally trudged across the room.

You will find that, like "walk" and "went", many weak verbs can be replaced with a more specific, interesting verb. This is especially true of adverb + verb combinations:

Weak: The man's arms were very strong.
Better: The man's arms bulged with muscle.

Weak: The arrow went threw the air.
Better: The arrow flew through the air.

Weak: The boy was behind the table.
Better: The boy cowered behind the table.

Weak: The man was very tall.
Better: The man towered above me.

Other weak words to watch out for: Go. Have. Has. Get. Very. Really. Great. Nice. Most adverb/verb combinations.


WAFFLE WORDS: Waffle words are sort of like signals that the author is half waffling because he somewhat doesn't seem to know exactly what he wants to say, almost. They can usually be cut. Say what you mean. Describe clearly. The following examples are pulled from actual stories that I've critiqued, with details changed to make them unrecognizable to the authors.

Weak: His eyes seemed to burn with hatred.
Better: His eyes burned with hatred.
Explanation: The metaphor is clear. We know his eyes aren't on fire.

Weak: He stumbled around the room, almost as if he were drunk.
Better: He stumbled around the room as if he were drunk.
Explanation: "As if" is sufficient to make it clear that he isn't actually drunk.

Weak: The terrible smell made him nearly retch.
Better: The terrible smell made him gag.
Explanation: Don't tell me what he nearly did. Tell me what he did.

Weak: The sky was somewhat black.
Better: The sky was ash gray.
Explanation: Don't tell me what it somewhat looks like. Tell me what it looks like.

Weak: The children looked half-starved.
Better: The children looked starved. (Or, The children were emaciated.)
Explanation: What does "half" accomplish other than to weaken the image?


The WAS Witch Hunt:

Some writers get out of hand trying to replace every weak word, especially forms of the verb "to be" (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been).

YES, often you can replace or enhance them with better, more specific verbs. If you can do it without making the sentence sound unnatural and awkward, do it.

NO, you can't get rid of them all, and you don't need to. Sometimes people just walk. Sometimes "was" is the smoothest, most natural verb to use.

BOTTOM LINE: A few simple changes in word choice can transform your writing, and knowing what to cut is as important as knowing what to add.

NEXT TIME: Are powerful nouns more important than powerful verbs?




Lessons List * 1* 2* 3* 4* 5* 6* 7* 8* 9* 10* 11* 12








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