Powerful Words Make Powerful Prose
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. Powerful prose tells a story with constant, purposeful momentum. We can make the action happen and shouldn’t need to describe it. And that makes 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.
7 Simple Edits to Improve Your Writing
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 and/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 colloquialisms).
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 13 Acts of Powerful Writing
These are the 13 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.
1. Activate the verb.
Let the subject perform the action by using active verbs. The subject is acted upon.
Passive: The screaming was heard by us three blocks away.
Active: We heard the screaming 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.
Instead of: She walked (briskly, casual or aimlessly) one block north and turned left.
Try: She 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 ones that create 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.
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.
Instead of: Robby stabbed the doll.
Try: Robby broke the doll.
6. Replace adjectives and adverbs with stronger verbs.
Resist adjectives and adverbs (-ly words) that 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 them 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 clichés—find new ways to say that wise adage.
Find a fresh way to describe a sunset, for example, with the perfect sound effect word.
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, especially if it starts in a pronoun or prepositional phrases.
Check the construction of the sentences—scan the page for your sentences' beginnings. Change from noun/pronoun, an article like “the”, or prepositional phrases, connecting words or transitional phrases and words.