Spicing up a bland meal is as easy as dousing it in Sriracha, but when it comes to writing, the best recipe for punching up your paragraphs begins with the verbs you use and how you use them.
Whether you’re writing an article or a blog, your use of verbs tells people about more than the topic at hand; it also tells them whether you’re a professional writer … or not.
Try out the following three tips to spice up your writing.
1. Get active.
One of the biggest mistake writers make is using passive verbs, such as versions of “to be,” instead of active verbs. Passive isn’t always wrong. Sometimes, passive verbs are necessary. Whenever possible, though, ditch the “is” and “was,” and give your sentences some spark.
- Passive: The movie was enjoyed by everyone in the group.
- Active: Everyone in the group enjoyed the movie.
- Passive: The entire pizza buffet was devoured by an army of hungry children.
- Active: An army of hungry children devoured the entire pizza buffet..
- Passive: Jackie was cooking dinner, while Mark was setting the table.
- Active: Jackie cooked dinner, while Mark set the table.
2. Be concise.
When students are faced with mandatory 10-page research papers, they’re trained to become masters at writing long sentences to bump up their word counts (admit it; you’re as guilty as the rest of us!). But you’re out of school now, and adding excessive verbiage will not earn you an A in your readers’ eyes. In fact, too many extras simply dilute your message and lessen the impact of your sentences.
- Not concise: There were dinosaurs that belonged to our neighbor who chewing up the leaves in the front yard.
- Concise: Our neighbor’s dinosaurs chewed up the leaves in the front yard.
- Not concise: There were seventeen penguins who were sunbathing at the neighborhood pool.
- Concise: Seventeen penguins sunbathed at the neighborhood pool.
3. Be precise.
Stephen King said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” and while we may not feel quite as strongly about it, he has a point.
Rather than trying to beef up your verbs with adverbs, why not choose a more precise verb? Instead of saying, “She said quietly,” choose a verb that means “said quietly,” such as “muttered,” “mumbled” or “murmured.”
- Imprecise: Carl quickly ran away from the zombies.
- Precise: Carl sprinted away from the zombies.
- Imprecise: Daryl smiled smugly at Lori.
- Precise: Daryl smirked at Lori.
Bonus tip: When you’re writing dialogue, this rule doesn’t necessarily apply. Instead, using “he said,” or “she said” is a perfectly acceptable way to express which party is speaking. Generally, the point of the dialogue is what is being said, rather than how it is being said. Throwing in adverbs or even a variety of precise verbs every time someone speaks can interrupt the flow of the dialogue. Sometimes, a “shouted” or “whispered” is okay, but keep those to a minimum.
There’s more to great writing than just choosing the right verbs, but if you’re looking for the action-makers, then verbs should be your starting point. A big part of grabbing a reader’s attention involves switching things up, and when it comes to verbs, that’s easy to do.
Challenge yourself to use more precise, active verbs. Doing so will sharpen your writing, engage your audience and make your writing process more enjoyable.