Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Verbs to Avoid in Novel Writing

The use of certain verbs can undermine the quality of your writing. The following simple writing exercise will tighten up your writing style and enforce the use of more creative verbs.

Creative Writing Exercise on Verbs

Improving your writing involves lots of practice and employing a certain amount of lenience. But watching out for the perils of passive writing, overuse of adjectives and clichés provides a quicker route to a sharp writing style. The focus of this article is however, the use of certain verbs such as: felt, hear, see and taste, the overuse of which I feel can be indicative of lazy writing. Take the following example:

Lazy Writing in Novels

‘She felt a sensation of dizziness as she struggled through the opener. She saw spots form in front of her eyes and she could smell the dinner burning. With renewed urgency, she forced her way through, rucking her dress.’

Pointless Words in Fiction
Let’s take this sample a little at a time. ‘She felt a sensation of dizziness as she struggled to climb through the opener.’ Dizziness cannot be seen or tasted; it can only be felt, so the verb ‘to feel’ is redundant in this context. For that matter, so is ‘sensation.’ Both words can be cut and replaced with one active verb to do the job of both.

I altered ‘dizziness’ to ‘vertigo,’ for it is a punchier noun. I also gave ‘vertigo’ something to do by pairing it with an active verb. The following suggestion is an improvement:

‘Vertigo surged through her as she struggled through the opener.’

How to Use Verbs in Writing more Effectively

Active Writing for Senses
The next part of the excerpt is, ‘she saw spots form in front of her eyes.’

Spots can only be seen, not felt or heard, so the verb ‘to see’ is redundant in this sentence. ‘Spots forming in front of the eyes’ is also a cliché. Why not change the whole sentence into one that centres upon a strong active verb and a noun? Snowstorm or blizzard is an improvement. Try

‘A frenetic blizzard splotched her vision for an instant.’

This cuts the use of ‘saw’ and creates a more dynamic sentence.

Creative Writing with Verbs

The third sentence, ‘…and she could smell the dinner burning.’

Again, the word ‘smell’ can easily be done away with. Why not change ‘dinner burning’ to a more specific description of the smell and give the resultant noun a strong active verb? An improvement might be, ‘burnt fat spiked the air.’

By cutting redundant verbs, in this case see, smell and feel, and pairing strong nouns with active verbs, the excerpt is instantly improved. The resultant excerpt might read:

‘Vertigo surged through her as she pushed her way through the opener. A frenetic blizzard splotched her vision for an instant. Burnt fat spiked the air. With renewed urgency, she forced her way through, rucking her dress.’

Example of Dynamic Writing

Keeping up this practice is hard when writing a full length novel. In chapter 1 of my blog novel, Nora, I avoided weak and redundant words. As can be seen in the excerpt, I avoided the words, hear, smell, see, felt etc. using only punchy adjectives and adverbs. Together with active verbs and accurate nouns, powerful imagery is created for the reader.

Creative Writing Exercise to Improve Writing

A novel littered with redundant verbs such as feel, hear and smell can have the accumulative effect of a writing style that is flabby and lazy. Substituting such verbs for active, colourful verbs can do wonders for your writing style. Of course, not every ‘feel’, ‘see’ or ‘hear’ can be cut, but by looking out for them and changing as many as you can, will create a more dynamic reading experience.

Articles to Help Improve Writing Style

Passive writing
Great themes for your novel
Overcoming writer's block
Writing dialogue for fiction
How to describe emotions
More words to avoid in novel writing

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