Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Six Tips for Keeping Active

Keeping active is not only good practice for health-obsessed silver surfers but also for aspiring writers. And just as students of all keep-fit disciplines exercise daily, so writers should also do their daily dozen.

  • Keep on top of those verbs. Active verbs are the strongest muscle you have when it comes to powerful writing. Replace verbs like come and go with a stronger verb to give a more precise definition of the movement: march, stride, race, sidle scuttle, pace.
  • Use stronger verbs. It will do away with any temptation you have to insert adverbs willy-nilly to clarify your meaning. I'm not advocating a blanket ban on adverbs but I am stamping my high heels cruelly onto the pernicious advice which encourages beginners to use phrases like  in a quiet voice instead of simply saying quietly.    
  • He spoke in a quiet voice? What's the matter with whispered, murmured, muttered...or just looking up a thesaurus?  
  • Look out for word echoes. All writers have favorite words. An unusual and well-chosen one used once or twice creates a desired effect. Overused words like overused utensils just wear out, lose their effectiveness and in the end clutter up manuscripts so badly that the reader loses interest.

  • Prune the adjectives. Adjective banks built up of triples are a huge hurdle for the reader to clear. The slim, intelligent, green-eyed blonde does nothing for my imagination  and when she enters the gloomy, ancestral, awe-inspiring banqueting hall, that makes me feel pretty gloomy too. To misquote Animal Farm--two adjectives,good, four adjectives disastrous.
  •  Avoid weak verbs.  Those like seem, feel, think, and the verb to be are reliant on following adjectives and phrases to complete their meaning. He was furious. In grammatical terms, the adjective furious is known as the complement because it completes the meaning for the verb to be.

  • Take care when using passive verbs. Active verbs like people are vigorous and energetic. They keep your writing moving along at a good pace. With an active verb, the subject (the person or thing you are talking about) performs the action. The teenager hurled his schoolbooks to the ground. With a passive verb, the subject does nothing. The subject suffers the action. The teenager was hurled to the ground by the earth tremors.

 Six more tips to follow next month to complete the daily dozen.

What tip would you share as the most useful in your writing keep-fit routine?

 Anne Duguid is a senior content editor with MuseItUp Publishing and   her New Year's Resolution is to blog with helpful writing,editing and publishing tips at Slow and Steady Writers far more regularly than she managed in 2011.


  1. Great tips, Annie! It's always good to be reminded.

  2. Thanks Mayra and Nancy. You can tell I've just been doing a bit of jaundiced editing LOL

  3. A humorous approach to a significant topic Annie - really enjoyed reading it. Word echoes has been a particular issue for me - when you're in the flow it's spot your own repetitions - that's why an extra pair of eyes or editor is so critical. I'd add, on a similar note, to be aware of your personal foibles. For me, it's the run on sentence, so I always check for those when I proof/edit my work.

    1. Thanks Maggie. Editors are always aware of their own flaws too. I guess that's why we're so critical of them in others LOL
      I've been learning about writing children's books recently and was interested to read that many publishers consider the ten word sentence a target even for fourth grade readers, twenty words an absolute maximum. (ooops 34 words...)

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Kathy and Carolyn. And I love the idea of adverbs turned into metaphorical gold. I may one day achieve riches after all. lol

  5. Ha! There is a section in The Frugal Book Promoter (www.budurl.com/TheFrugalEditor) on how to take adverbs and look at them with an eye to turning them into metaphorical gold--and yes, to strengthen verbs. Glad you mentioned this! (-:

    Thank you for this nudge! Even experienced writers need a nudge now and then!

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Excited about the new edition (expanded! updated! even more helpful for writers!) of The Frugal Book Promoter, now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo)

  6. Thanks for the tips. I usually keep my open for these, but it can't hurt to be reminded every once in a while.

  7. And thanks so much, Peggy, Nancy and Mary Jo, for reading and commenting. Greatly appreciated.

  8. Annie, great tips. To catch those 'over-used' favorite words, I like to use Word's word Finder.

    And, I agree with Maggie, having another writer who reads your work or belonging to a critique group is so important. We're just too close to our own work to catch all the tweaking that needs to be done. Even if we think we're reading it, we know what we intended and may be on autopilot, thinking it says what we intended even if it doesn't.

    I look forward to next month's.

    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

  9. I like your comparison to physical activity. Passive verbage is something I run into a lot when I'm editing.

  10. R.U.E. - Resist the Urge to Explain! Over-exercising can induce long-term dis-ability.

  11. I'm hanging onto this one! I am sure I will need the advice.

  12. Thanks everyone for taking the time to read this. And more invaluable advice there too from Karen and Widdershins. Heidi, those passives do slow things down and thanks Debbie for making me feel useful LOL


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