Tips on Revision: Do a Verb and Word Check

No revision is complete without a thorough check of the verbs in your manuscript. You want to make your verbs clean. You want to make your verbs sparkle. And if you love words, as I do, it won't be a chore to highlight each one, take a moment to decide if it works or not, and then either keep it or change it. My quest to make my verbs sizzle and pop has blossomed into contemplating nouns, ridding my manuscript of most adjectives and all no-no adverbs, and what's been the most fun: rephrasing many parts of sentences, indeed, often changing entire sentences. I've even found inaccuracies I've somehow missed. This is after a thorough sweep of my project by more than one expert editor! Lesson learned: the buck stops at the author. No one else can fine-tune your work the way you can and no one cares as much as you do.

Use the "Find" Function in Word
I'm on the Rs. That's right, almost done. My process:

  • Click on the "Find" function in Word
  • Type in the word in question
  • Click on "Find in"
  • Click Main document
  • Word will give you the number of this word that you have used
  • Click Highlight All
  • Go through the text and decide whether to keep or change the word
  • Use your own and online dictionary and thesaurus 

I split the screen in two, one side a tally of the words I am working on, and the other, my manuscript. My tally sheet is eight pages long: the words are listed in one long column in order to use the "alphabetize" function. My goal is a minimum of three to avoid too much repetition, unless the word is repeated for characterization purposes or simply works best.

The List
The list I've compiled for this post consists of the most troublesome repeats: the first number is the repeats first found, the second is the whittled-down version. The latter number shows the actual number of those words used now. Some words, such as ran and sat, are part of bigger words and don't count as being repetitive, and are listed in the first number, but not the second.

down 146:15 (Yikes!)
dropped  24:5
fell  19:8
glanced  31:4
grabbed  28:3
headed  12:3
holding  14:3
hurried  7:6
just  49:6
kept  20:4
let/let’s/letting  89:11
look/looked/looking 46:5
minute  24:8
moved  21:7
peered  12:3
picked up  17:5
pointed  28:2
pulled  33:7
ran  95:10
reached  27:8
rose  13:7
sat  35:10
stood  53: Eek!
took  55: Help!

A Few Examples

  • Too many "slips": A boy slipped in next to the woman. v A boy peeked out from behind the woman. 
  • Too many "slids": He ignored them, continued to the next hive, removed that frame,--v slid that frame out,--and inspected it. 
  •  . . . and placed (v slid) the silhouettes in the back seat. 
  • Too many "lowereds": While dabbing at the inky black hair sticking out from under her hair band, sunglasses still lowered, she eyed Jess. v While dabbing at the inky black hair sticking out from under her headband, sunglasses now hovering somewhere around the groove between her nostrils and her upper lip, she eyed Jess.

Whittling Down the Words
How did whittling down these words change my manuscript?

  • The wording often changed, and often the word in question was deleted altogether.
  • I found the most delicious verbs and alternate thought patterns that feel fresher than my original wording.
  • Some changes came in the form of adding more actions by the characters and showing more emotions. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi is the main resource I'm using, though Google searches are a big help, too. 
  • Zeroing in on a sentence or phrase allowed me to find ways of using alliteration and figurative language more.
  • Found opportunities for more feedback from characters to each other and to the main character.
  • Weeded out superfluous words.
  • I believe my language is much more colorful now.
  • Has helped to tighten scenes.
  • Caveat: It has gotten more difficult to find fresher words as I draw closer to Y (no Zs, yet anyway).

The Finish Line
This pursuit has become a game: How many interesting words can I collect and jot down for The List? When I'm finished, I plan to print the pages, cut them so only the column of words is showing, and tape the columns together on fewer pages for easy access for future projects. Funny how collecting words like this hasn't struck me until now after many years of writing. But I've got the bug now and I can see the writing on The List: it will keep growing and growing and growing! 

Image courtesy of:

My writing partners and me in the
mountains gathering inspiration.
 Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series.  Follow Linda at


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Linda Wilson,I love these reminders. So often we reach too far trying to use unusual or fresh language and it just sounds worse--strained.

Linda Wilson said...

So true, Carolyn -- it's a challenge to find the best word, even if it's a plain one.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, great tips on finding and fixing overused words and verbs. I once did this with an article - I removed all the "was" words. Very interesting exercise!

Linda Wilson said...

Yes, it's a different way to analyze your words rather than by reading through the text--a handy revising technique.

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