Glass breaks. But even better, glass shatters.
A knife cuts. But even better, a knife slashes.
A thief hides in the shadows. But even better, a thief lurks in the shadows.
A man falls from the cliff. But even better, a man plunges from the cliff.
In each of these cases, I’ve replaced a bland verb with a power verb.
Verbs are the muscles of your sentence. And if you know your physiology, two types of muscles fire away in our arms and legs—slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles.
Slow-twitch muscles fire more slowly and are efficient at using oxygen, making them ideal for endurance. Marathon runners use slow-twitch muscles. Fast-twitch muscles, on the other hand, fire more rapidly, making them ideal for short-bursts of energy. A football halfback uses fast-twitch muscles to blast through defensive lines.
In this metaphor, slow-twitch verbs are your ordinary, steady verbs, which carry us long distances through a story like slow-twitch muscles. After all, not every verb can be packed with power. But if you want to propel your story, be on the lookout for power verbs—the fast-twitch verbs. They give your writing that much-needed burst of energy, propelling your story forward.
Water flows rapidly from a pipe. But even better, water gushes from a pipe.
An exhausted woman walks slowly. But even better, an exhausted woman trudges.
Fire burns your hand badly. But even better, fire scorches your hand.
Note that in these last three examples, the verb in the weaker sentence was accompanied by an adverb. The water “flowed rapidly,” and the exhausted woman “walked slowly.” If you feel the need to use an adverb, that’s a hint that your verb might be too bland and too weak. It’s much more vibrant and vivid to say the water “gushed” rather than “flowed rapidly.”
We often try to rescue our weak verbs by pairing them with adverbs, but a fast-twitch verb does not require the assistance of an adverb. Consider another example…
Johnson soundly beat the record.
This sentence tries to strengthen the verb “beat” with the adverb “soundly,” but it just doesn’t work.
Instead…Johnson shattered the record.
Put a little power in your verbs, and you will improve your writing. No, scratch “improve.” You will punch up your writing. Much stronger verb.
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5 for Writing
Get writing. Find the time to write. Then do it.
Learn by listening—and doing. Solicit feedback, discern what helps you.
Finish your story. Edit and rewrite, but don’t tinker forever. Reach the finish line.
Thrive on rejection. Get your story out there. Be fearless. Accept rejection.
Become a juggler. After one story is finished, be ready to start another. Consider writing two at once.