Feb 14, 2009

Power Verbs

By Christine Thackeray

Thank you Kristine John for those words on PURGING. I've been trying to edit out over 25000 words out of my latest manuscript, and it's been painful! On that journey I've had many interesting conversations with my critique group. Yesterday I was talking to Julia Wagner who read me one of her paragraphs where she used the two phrases to replace the word looked -

She flicked her eyes back to the...

She brushed her gaze across the intricate carvings

Julia is queen of power verbs. She rarely just looks, walks or smiles which are common actions in my stories. I also have my characters nod and roll their eyes way too much.

Lately I've been on the prowl for good verbs that wake the reader up without throwing them out of the story. On the news this morning I heard them say that someone chose to "buck" the norm and "stemmed" the common trend- great verbs!

So I went back and chose some of my drab sentences-

“I know.” He walked back to their room frustrated.

Cath looked at him in shock.

Lindsay rolled her eyes and scowled.

The search for replacements has yielded sorry results. Here's my crack at using better verbage while maintaining the meaning.

"I know." He stomped back to their room and slammed the door.

Cath gaped at him as though he had three heads.

Lindsay tightened her lips until they were nothing but little slits across her face.

Okay, 'stomped, gaped and tightened'- not that great. I'd love to see some of you try. Hey, you brilliant word-smiths out there, how would you say those sentences better?


  1. I don't know, Christine. I think you did a pretty good job. I struggle to find those power words myself. Great reminder, thanks!

  2. An excellent post and reminder, Christine! I think the "stomped" version is much more powerful than the "walked across the room" one. The "gaping" phrase is equally stronger than merely "looking in shock". The "tightened lips" might not seem "brilliant" to you at a glance, but with the addition of "until they were nothing but little slits across her face", you provoke a very vivid image, made possible by that simple, but important, choice of verb that precedes it.

    I need to work on these things, too, but I think you're off to a great start!

  3. I think you've got it! I like the movement in stomped and slammed.

  4. The right verb "shows" you what happened instead of "telling" you what happened, first voice and all that. Excellent choice of verbs that last time round. Wouldn't change them.

  5. Hey Christine :-D I liked the revision - seriously - I gasp, scowl, and nod way too many times too - I need to come up with other things too. :-D


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