Sunday, December 08, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Technical Flaws-Vocabulary-Weak Forms-Weak Verbs
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: April 06, 2013
Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. Mark Twain
We writers litter our manuscripts with weak forms of verbs and adjectives frequently. By avoiding weak forms, we strengthen the prose. When rewriting, writers should search for certain words to remove outright.
Words to remove immediately include, but are not limited to: “very,” “about,” “usually,” “strange,” “beautiful,” “handsome,” “slowly,” “suddenly,” “tall,” “short,” “big,” “little,” “fat,” “thin,” “dark,” and “light.” Removing these will not lose meaning and will tighten the prose in most cases. For example:
Shelly usually felt calm in most situations, but suddenly dark fear overwhelmed her now. Standing on the short ledge she looked down into the little lake. Why did she come here? The handsome stranger behind her counted down very slowly. In ten, nine, eight…she’d jump.
Delete the useless words rather than substitute or elaborate. When we read the prose after doing this, we can see a marked difference.
Shelly felt calm in most situations, but fear overwhelmed her. Standing on the ledge she looked down into the lake. Why did she come here? The stranger behind her counted down. In ten, nine, eight…she’d jump.
The words we’ve removed had only clutter the prose, nothing more.
The difference between a weak verb and a strong one is in how the past tense of the verb is formed. Weak verbs (regular verbs) form the past tense by adding ed, d, or t, to the present tense form of the verb. For example, called, walked, and moved are weak. Strong verbs (irregular verbs) form the past tense in a variety of ways, but typically by changing the vowel of the present tense form. For example, gave and stuck are strong verbs.
Irregular verbs are considered strong because they don’t rely on an added ending to form the past tense. Weak verbs must add the “ed” or “d” ending.
In cases where the word we need cannot be expressed with an irregular verb, we look to specific and vivid verbs rather than generalities. For instance, walk, laugh, run, sat, jump, and move are examples of weak verbs. Consider the many synonyms for each of these and the many images that each synonym evokes.
What if she chortled, tittered, sniggered, giggled, cackled or snickered. Every one of these other verbs is stronger than laughed, because each gives a distinct image.
She might saunter, limp, swagger, creep, or skip instead.
Let’s have her bolt, jog, sprint, or gallop, and we’ll show much more about her and the scene.
Did she just sit, or did she sink, settle, or slouch?
Move can be deleted because it offers nothing specific. How did she move? Did she run, leap, fall or slink along the floor? Or perhaps she’s moving to a new house, city, or country. We can’t be sure with a vague “moved.” Find something that shows more than just an indistinct action.
We see her leaping, bounding, or hopping instead
When rewriting, search for weak verbs and try to replace them with strong verbs. For example:
Weak: Joel walked to the window.
Strong: Joel limped to the window.
Weak: The hairy beast jumped into his lap.
Strong: The hairy beast bounded into the room and onto his lap.
Weak: She ran away.
Strong: She bolted.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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