Friday, July 25, 2014

On Editing - Death to Weak Verbs

I'm in the final stages of A Sawmill's Hope edits and I haven't come up for air in ... I don't honestly know how long. My video games are getting super jealous.

I want to take a second and mention some of the line-level edits that have recently transpired. This took place after most of the story-level issues were dealt with.

One of the stages in edits - one that could be considered another draft - was to eliminate weak verbs. Especially ones I use on rapid fire. Some of you writers are thinking, "I've seen this advice before. Nothing new." Perhaps, but I'd like to share with those of you who haven't.

The words I'm guilty of abusing are as follows (And it was my editor who initiated this elimination process by pointing out the words' frequency)

Glance - He glanced back, She threw a glance, he glanced sidelong, etc.
 * edits took ASH from 55 to 16 instances of this word.

Turn - He turned back, turned to face him, turned from red to purple, eyes turned down, etc
 * went from 246 to 120 instances of this word... 246 is a lot. eh? Just wait.

Grew (grown) - River grew wider, it grew dark, he'd grown silent, etc.
 * 74 down to 23.

Look - He looked down, she looked over, he looked hurt, it looked tall, they looked ominous, etc
 * 420 instances down to 173. Seriously. This is my guilty go-to word.

Began to - He began to question, it began to shake, before he began, etc.
 * 73 to 27

I stopped keeping count after that. The next words weren't so guilty. I'd already done elimination process on them.

Become (became)
Feel (felt)

In and of themselves, there is no inherent danger in these words. Like adverbs, there is a place for them all. But, like sniffing military-grade monkey tranquilizer, there's danger in excess.

Regarding Glance and Look (and Turn when it is referring to body movement during a non-action scene) - I first need to determine if the word is necessary at all. If the scenery or dialogue is so weak I need to keep the focus on who is looking at whom, then there's a bigger problem. If the ruins on the Lake of Four Falls look ominous then perhaps they are ominous and removal strengthens the image.
If removal is not an option, here are alternates I found (yes, I right-click and look at synonyms. If it fails to satisfy, I google "synonym glare" and find Glower. Perfect.)
Peer, peep, stare, glare, eye, examine, scan

Regarding Turn, Become\Became, Grew\Grow\Grown - When these words are used a certain way, like to describe a transition or change or such, they can be improved upon.
Some changes are simple - if a river grows wider, it widens. If Brandal's face turns red, it reddens. Sometimes they offer unique possibilities. If an elk grew still, it froze OR solidified. If the road the party traveled became congested, perhaps it squeezed in on them, leaving your reader with a sense of claustrophobia.

In certain situations the weak verb is surrounded by so much action that enhancing it would detract from the scene as a whole.
If the aggravated alchemist grows wilder with each arrow that thumps into his breastplate, don't focus on the word, aim for his face!

For you writers, what are your go-to weak verbs that must be weeded out and ground beneath your heel?


  1. Just went through that same process last month. Had a huge list of words I went on a seek-and-destroy mission to find. Words like many, only, and every. Found a couple websites that listed over-used adverbs and adjectives. Felt was a word I used to overuse, but now I know to watch for it.
    One thing I tried was Wordle. Upload your entire manuscript and it will give you an image of words - the bigger the word, the more often you used it in the story. I found a few other over-used words that way.
    Keep editing!! You'll finish soon.

    1. Alex, very good advice, thank you. It's true, once we realize we abuse a word, the healing (and preventative) process begins! :)

      I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

  2. Yep -- "Looked", "turned", "paused", "exhaled", "shook his head", and all the variety of little body twitches that add a beat in dialog. Those are typically my over-used and wasted words.

    Can't wait to see the finished product!!!

    Oh -- and just to give you some head's up: I've "tagged" you in a blog-hop post I'm posting on Monday, including you as a creative writer and musician in a "virtual tour". Just wanted you to know so you can pop over and see your stolen profile picture used on my blog. :)

    No pressure -- I know you're elbows deep in ASH, so don't feel you have to keep the hop going. I just wanted to give you a shout-out.

    1. Yo. I will absolutely check it out! Looking forward to it, Chris.

      "elbows deep in ASH..." I like this image very much

    2. :)

      Post is up, Dude... Come and bask in the glow of your accolade, my friend.

  3. Good stuff! I am going to try that Wordle site. I bet I get the surprise of my life. And I don't mean the good kind.

  4. Glanced is one I overuse and I'll definitely be working on eliminating them when I edit my sequel. Oh, I'm not looking forward to that.

    Good luck with the rest of your edits! :)

  5. Robin, I'm afraid to go to that site. I don't have time for another draft!!

    Chrys, some editing I don't mind. My line editor (otherwise known as Mom) just goes through and shows me where I need comas and quick fixes. I don't mind those. But inventing new words for 420 cases of "look"... that was pretty dreadful.

  6. I think so long as everything's done in moderation, you are fine. For my current book, I've had several editors go through it, and one had me removing certain weaker verbs, whereas the next editor wanted many of them added back in. At a certain point it depends on a reader's preference:)

    1. Absolutely; moderation. Regarding 'look', I was using it like Smurfs use the word Smurf.
      I try to get a couple of additional opinions as well.


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