Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ask O: Must I Slash Weak Verbs?


Happy Wednesday my writing friends!

Recently I've encountered some shady characters--you've met them too--weak verbs. Like last week's culprit, to-be verbs, writing coaches everywhere warn against these hazards. Let's refresh our memories about why we must shun them.

First, what do I mean by weak verbs? Really, any overused verb becomes weak. Even lovely verbs like ooze or shimmer loose their oomph when used too often (more than once in a book). But some of the traditional weak verbs are: look, walk, turn, go, come, get, etc. Can you think of others?


Guinevere went to the horse and got on.

Aside from the overwhelming bluckiness of this sentence, it’s also vague. The weak verbs keep readers at arms length, because they're not “in on” the details of the scene. I strive to pull readers from the bleachers, yanking them into the story. How awesome when a reader says, “I felt like I was that character.”Ambiguity acts like a curtain, keeping readers out. Clarity invites them in, and strong verbs help zero in on the details.

Guinevere dashed to the horse and leapt on.

Isn’t that cool? Even just exchanging those two verbs created a clearer picture, and helped pull readers into the scene.


Okay people, true confessions. Weak verbs are like the TV clicker. They hang around within easy reach. When I spot weak verbs as I’m writing, it takes time to stop and think of something zippier. Also, searching for strong verbs can bog down the self-editing process. Isn’t it good enough? I bemoan. Do I really have to change all these looks, turns, and wents?

Well, yes, I do. If I want my writing to pop, to jump from the page and grab readers, I can’t let those weak verbs survive.


When I edited, I'd encounter maybe one out of fifty authors who used strong verbs. What a relief when a manuscript brimmed with awesome action words. Their commitment to excellence showed.

Truth is most writers struggle with weak verbs. If we want our manuscripts to shine among the many that editors and agents receive, strong verbs are vital! It only takes a couple paragraphs to know whether a writer has put in the time and effort to forge powerful sentences.

A Few Tips

The easiest way I’ve found to annihilate weak verbs is simply to use Word’s search and find function. You know, good ol’ Control F. I look for each of the weak verbs I listed above, then spruce up any I can. It takes time, but it’s worth it.

I also treasure my Super Thesaurus. A writer’s best friend. And I’ve created a list of awesome verbs I find when reading. When I’m stuck, these spark my imagination.

Have fun expunging those weak verbs, and let me know if you think of any other verbs to avoid or have any tips to help. I’d love to hear. And don't forget to send me your writing questions either in the comments or at

God bless and happy writing,