Powerful Words Make Powerful Prose

Updated on November 8, 2017
Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe is an author with three novels under agent and small pub consideration. She's been self-editing for years and knows what works.

Power Up and Verbalize It

What does it take to make your writing more powerful? Verbs—powerful verbs.

This is why we should choose our words wisely. A powerful prose tells a story with constant, purposeful momentum. We can make the action happen and shouldn’t need to describe it. And, that would make our writing easy to read too. Our writing shouldn't call attention to itself, except at the right times. One smooth action word should be followed by a long or shortened sentence.

Powerful verbs lead to fast-paced action. It’s very active and not passive. It carries a descriptive meaning and moves the story along. Powerful words grab attention by exaggerating to kick things off, suggesting a hypothetical reality, or burying the similes and growing metaphors. Better verbs are a combination of interesting verb + noun partners. They should paint a clearer, stronger picture in our heads. They build muscle in your writing by replacing neutral verbs with stronger ones.

We should make it specific to the scene or person. With the right choice of words, you should emphasize their position in the sentence. Make it interesting and not distracting.

Use Pencils to Tighten Prose in Hard Copies

Seven Simple Edits

I've listed the seven simple edits that would transform your next story with powerful writing.

1. Don't Pad Your Prose with Empty Filler Words (and Avoid Using Grammar Expletives). When words like "it," "here," and "there" are followed by the dreaded form of the "to be" verbs, it's a grammar expletive as literary constructions. Those common constructions can weaken your writing by shifting the emphasis away from the true drivers of your sentence. And they usually require other support words like who, that, and when, which further dilutes your writing. Adjust your sentences to lead with the meat and potatoes of those sentences and train yourself to spot those instances.

2. Don't Weaken Your Action With Wimpy Words or Avoid Weak Verbs (Use Visceral and Action Verbs Instead). Those grammar expletives are also responsible for its own class of sentence-impairing constructions. In its various forms, certain uses of "to be" weaken the words that follow. Replace those lightweights with more powerful alternatives. Other forms of the verbs to be lack strength too. Use visceral verbs or verbs that express some action.

3. Don't Cripple Your Descriptions With Feeble Phrases (Or Avoid Weak Adjectives): From your writing, weak adjectives can sap the strength as weak verbs do. When describing nouns and pronouns, use the best set of adjectives to transform them from ordinary to extraordinary words. Be wary of certain words like very and really, which usually precedes weak adjectives. Stronger alternatives give your writing more impact if you don't use those telltale words. Weak adjectives tell your readers what something isn't as opposed to what something is.

Examples of weak to strong adjective pairings:

  • Instead of saying he's really bad, say he's terrible.
  • Replace the word tired with exhausted.
  • Don't say he's not a bore, say he's hilarious.

4. Trim Flabby Words and Phrases (Or Avoid Verbose Colloquisms): Say what you mean as concisely as possible before your readers vanish. Avoid flabby colloquial expressions when possible.

Example: You're going to have to edit your work. (Going to and going to have are flabby expressions.) To fix this sentence, try You must edit your work, or you'll have to edit your work.

5. Don't Pussyfoot Around Your Verbs and Adjectives (Or Avoid Nominalization): When a stronger verb or adjective replacement is available, nominalization occurs when a writer uses a weak noun equivalent. Like grammar expletives, nominals usually introduce each other unnecessary words when used.

6. Throw Out the Book in Punctuation (Or Use the Common Comma for Clarity): The rules about punctuation can be complicated, even for the humble comma. Regardless of what the comma police may say, use commas sparingly if you prefer; but if excluding a comma MAKES YOUR READER STOP READING, add another comma. You ultimately want your readers to keep reading, regardless of your stance on commas. All the way to the call of action, you want them to continue the slippery slope of powerful content.

7. Be as Manipulative as Possible (Or Use Noun Modifiers Whenever You Can): At least, be mindful of it, when we don't use technique often. We're using noun modifiers, when we use two nouns together with the first noun modifying the second. Try to implement this noun-modifying technique, whenever you spot this construction.

Example: Information regarding registration can be shortened to registration information.

The Delete Key Can Help You Improve Your Work

The 13 Acts of Powerful Writing

These are the thirteen acts of powerful writing I’ve learned in that workshop. Feel free to copy the notes and share with others. We’re all into this together as fellow writers and hubbers.

1. Activate the verb.
Let the subject perform the action by using active verbs. The subject is acted upon.

Examples: Active: We heard the screaming three blocks away.
Passive: The screaming was heard by us three blocks away.

2. Choose a verb with descriptive power.
Strong verbs carry connotations with them: not just an action but how it’s done. Replace adverbs and adjectives with stronger verbs.

Examples: Instead of: she walked (briskly, casual or aimlessly) one block north and turned left.
Try strode, sauntered or wandered one block north and turned left.

3. Make your verb-specific to the scene or person.
Choose the most interesting verbs or one that creates drama most consistent with the scene. Break it down into several actions.

4. Make your verb interesting but not distracting.
Interesting verbs further the action, meaning or mood of the scene.

Examples: Instead of: She washes the dishes thoroughly.
Try: She scrubs the coffeepot and drenches the soapy plates with hot water.

5. Keep your verbs audience appropriate.
Make it suitable for your target audience.

Example: Instead of Robby stabbed the doll, try Robby broke the doll.

6. Replace ad_s with stronger verbs.
Resist adjectives and adverbs (-ly words)--have built-in descriptors,
Use verbs that end in -ed. Keep it sparse and fresh.

7. Cut the number of adjectives/adverbs in half.
Spent your ad- dollars wisely.
Check how many you use in a paragraph or page. Cut them in half.
Nix tired, weak or redundant verbs. If you have more than a couple, find a new option.

8. Eliminate the adjectives/adverbs you repeat.
Eliminate those ad- words.

9. Show the action instead of using clichés.
Show action instead of expressing or putting it in a cliché.
Chop cliches—find new ways to say that wise adage.
Find a fresh way to describe a sunset, for example, with the perfect sound effect word.

Example: Instead of: She frightened me to death when she moved near the cliff-edge.
Try: When she stepped closer to the cliff-edge, I leaped to grab her arm.

10. Express a truism in a new way.
It can be shown through action in the scene. How would you say opposites attract?

11. Vary sentence length and structure.
If the sentence is the average length, vary the structure.

Be aware of the average length of sentences. Find out how many are average length?

Follow long, flowing sentences with staccato rhythm or short ones. Often shorter sentences pack a punch with shorter words. Also vary the length of paragraphs.

12. Eliminate unneeded phrases.
Cut out the chaff. Tighten all unneeded phrases.

13. Vary beginnings of sentences.
Switch the beginning of sentences, if it starts in a pronoun or prepositional phrases.

Check the construction of the sentences—scan page for your sentences beginnings. Change from noun/pronoun, an article like “the”, or prepositional phrases, connecting words or transitional phrases and words.

Powerful prose poll

Will you power up your writing to make revisions better with these tips?

See results

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    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 10 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      My pleasure Deborah. I hope to post more from last year's conference sometime this year.

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 10 months ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      These are some great tips. Thanks for sharing what you learned with the rest of us!

      Namaste

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 11 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Better late than never, Oscar. I'm glad my conference workshop advice will help you out in your editing. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 11 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Better late than never, Oscar. You're welcome. I'm happy to share my conference workshop tips with others here and elsewhere. Good for you.

    • Oscarlites profile image

      Oscar Jones 11 months ago from Alabama

      I know this is late to post, but do it I will! thanks for the writers self help article. I'm still working on my sentences, so I will definitely include your verb structure advice..

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Alun, it's so good to hear from you. It was last year. I just attended a local different conference this weekend. Thesaurus can be a writer's best friend for sure. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, my friend.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 18 months ago from Essex, UK

      Thanks for sharing what sounds like a useful course to attend. The basic message I guess is that every sentence and every phrase can always be expressed in a different way, and what works in one setting, may not be the best choice in another.

      Certainly what works in one sentence may need to be altered for the next! I know that although I've got a reasonable vocabulary, certain words and phrases stick in my brain, and I subconsciously use them time and again. Often, I'll read back the text I've written in a hub and realise I've used the same adverb / adjective three or four times in rapid succession - when that happens, out comes the Thesaurus!

      There's merit in writing freely and naturally without too much thought, but there's also great merit in constantly evaluating what we've written and amending it to make it more readable and more powerful. Alun

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 19 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Glenn! I'm so glad it was useful and helpful to you. Thanks for tweeting it and for reading. I'll do more workshop articles this spring and summer.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 19 months ago from Long Island, NY

      I found your list of notes from your workshop very useful. And the examples make it clear how powerful this can be.

      This technique of writing adds a colorful aspect to the content in addition to the descriptive way of bringing the reader deeper into the meaning and mood of the story.

      The most important thing I got out of your hub is the way to show the action rather than describing it. When a writer describes the action, it may become boring. But when a writer "shows" the action, then the reader can feel as if they are part of the scene.

      Powerful stuff.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 20 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Heidi, thanks for sharing my post and commenting my friend. You're awesome.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 20 months ago from Chicago Area

      Always go for action! Great tips. Sharing on HP and Twitter!

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Breathing for commenting on my hub.

    • breathing profile image

      Sajib 2 years ago from Bangladesh

      Indeed powerful writing is very much important for creating a positive effect on the readers. With the tips the author have mentioned in this hub, modern writers will get the scope of thinking about applying these tips and making their writing powerful. Also I think such workshops should be organized more and more so that the writers can attend and learn valuable things. Improving the writing skill continuously is what a writer should look forward too. These seminars can serve this purpose to great extent. With more powerful words, the writing will be more enticing and eventually the readers will come back for more.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Linda! I'm happy to share what I've learned over here.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Excellent tips! Eliminate excessive words...I'm becoming so good with this that I often forget an important word. Funny, not funny! :)

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're welcome Carb Diva. You're a great recipe writer as well.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you for sharing these great tips. Most of my hubs are recipes, but I always try to incorporate a story to make the telling a bit more interesting. I will try my best to be a good student and put these tips to practice.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Bev, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. You're welcome. I'm hoping to attend the fall conference next month to share what I've learned this late fall.

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 2 years ago from Wales

      All writers can benefit from these tips. Tight, economical writing is much nicer to read than adjective-filled fluff. Thanks, Kirsten.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      My pleasure Rachel. It's useful for whatever we're writing, even recipes, too.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Hi Kristen, I'm not a writer and my hubs are not about stories, but I do have to write something about my recipes. Sometimes that includes a story that has to do with that recipe. So, it's nice to know about the points you mentioned in your hub. Thanks for sharing this useful information with the rest of us. I voted up and useful.

      Blessings to you.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks so much Ann. Good points. I'm happy to pass it along and share with others here.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Some useful tips here which many will hopefully put into practice. If we're aware of what we write and try to make it more colourful, stronger and concise, then our writing hits home.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Peggy, you're a great friend. Thanks for the share and up vote and you're welcome for the spread of knowledge I've learned in March.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for sharing the information you learned by attending that workshop. We can all utilize tips like this to better our writing skills. Up votes and sharing.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Dolores for the vote and share. Well, if you use them sparingly in moderation, it would be okay. I've used what I've learned from that workshop in late March. :-)

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Kristen, you've made some great points here and I do love the way you added samples to clarify the suggestions. I understand the war against adverbs but adjectives too!? Adverbs can sound clumsy, can take away from action, and sometimes they sound downright silly. But you can' t kill the adjective! (voted up and shared)

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Gotcha. I've heard of him and his work. Yep, he died last year as I recall. That's interesting. Hmm. Thanks.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Gabriel García Márquez -- Love in the Time of Cholera, The General in His Labyrinth, etc.. He was sort of the king of the magical realists, I guess. He died . . . last year? I remember that a few years before that he announced that he would no longer use adverbs.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Sure, I remember. Which Garcia? Thanks so much Jill.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Great advice, Kristen. Remember when Garcia gave up all adverbs? I thought it eccentric at the time, but . . . more power to the verb!

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Mary for stopping by and commenting on my hub. You've made my day. Good luck with editing!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      What a great share! There is so much we need to learn, no matter how old we are. Your sharing is to our benefit.

      I loved reading this and may have to go do some editing!

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Lee for stopping by. You can check out my first part of revision tips hub, since I hope to do part 2 in two weeks. Thanks for the vote and comment.

    • profile image

      Lee Cloak 2 years ago

      Oh very very good, a really fantastic hub packed full of brilliant advice, I look forward to the next one, thanks for sharing, voted up, very well done, Lee

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Joyette for stopping by and commenting on my hub. It's my pleasure. I'll post the 2nd half of my revision workshop next week or early June.

    • Joyette  Fabien profile image

      Joyette Fabien 2 years ago from Dominica

      Very nice of you to share these tips from your workshop. Its good because we are like family here on HP. Voted up and useful. I will read the others as well.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're very welcome Mike. I hope it helps everyone out. Revision, part 1, have been out, since last week. Part 2 is coming in a week or so. :-)

    • Mike Welsh profile image

      Mike 2 years ago from Wales, United Kingdom

      Thank you Kristen for this extremely helpful hub. It is great advice. I look forward to the next edition.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Cynthia thanks so much for the kind words. Congrats on your master's degree and new job and the big move. Always good to hear from you and thanks for the visit.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 2 years ago from Western NC

      Powerful words for an about-to-be-published author. ;) Love this! I can't wait to get back into writing more. I just finished my master's degree, got a new job and am moving as a result of it - so life is a wee bit crazy! Great job here and I should give you a belated welcome to HubPages. :)

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Boo for stopping by my hub. You've very welcome. I'll have a new one up tomorrow.

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 2 years ago from Washington MI

      So very much to learn here. You do a great job presenting the information needed to write better. Thank you Kristen.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      My pleasure Rachel. Hope it helps you out with your recipes.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Thanks Kristen for the advise. My hubs are recipes but I still do have to write something about them. I will keep in mind about the verbs and adjectives. Voted up and useful.

      Blessings to you.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Good for you Audrey. Thanks for sharing my hub my friend.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 2 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      I'm working on a book and these tips are so helpful. Your examples help the reader to understand exactly what you mean. Thanks and will share this useful hub.

      Audrey

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're very welcome Alicia. The next one should be up sometime next weekend, which is a bit longer than this one.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing this very useful information, Kristen. I'm looking forward to your hub based on the second workshop.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Maggs for stopping by and commenting with your kind words. My pleasure.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 2 years ago from Sunny Spain

      An excellent hub, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it is packed full of interesting and useful information. Well done, thanks for sharing, I will vote up and hit the relevant buttons on my way out :D

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Angela for stopping by and book marking my hub.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great info here Kristen - definitely bookmarking!

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks so much for commenting Mel. I hope everyone here can use it and apply it to their own writing.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Very useful tips. Some of these things I think I do instinctively, but some I will try to work on. Great hub!

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Rakim for those kind words. I'm just sharing what I've learned with others on how to make your writing more powerful.

    • Rakim Cheeks profile image

      Rakim Cheeks 2 years ago

      Wow. As a professional writer, I must say these tips are very essential. You are a very intelligent writer. This hub is the best one I've seen thus far. You bring a lot of usage to the world of writing. Great job! You rock! Kristen

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Flourish. I really did for a hour-long seminar. The presenter read some of her favorite book excepts to emphasize those tips.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      These tips were very useful. I bet you enjoyed that seminar. Looking forward to future hubs.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Donna for liking my new writing/ediitng hub.

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      DonnaDM 2 years ago

      Nice. I enjoyed reading this. Well done.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks so much Jodah for stopping by and commenting, I wish it was longer. Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for sharing what you learned from the workshop Kristen. As you say we are all in this together and it's great to help and support each other. I look forward to reading what you share from future workshops. Voted up.