Enlivening the Page

Saturday, August 04, 2012
D Sharon Pruitt | flickr.com
The first draft is done and you are ready to start revising. Sure, you've heard about using active verbs, but how do you review your manuscript to make your writing crackle on the page?

I once had an elementary school teacher who crossed out the word "very" whenever I used it in my writing. That is a word that gives me pause even today. It is now very unlikely that you will find that I've used very in a sentence.

One of the tricks I use in reviewing my writing to make it more active is to look for the words that end in -ly.
Here's an example:

Our protagonist is John and he is notorious for jingling his change in his pocket. It is one of his ticks that will arise when he's nervous.

He quietly walked down the street.

But what does that tell me about him? Not as much as it could. Walked is a bland verb. If we can snazz it up a little to really show our audience how he is moving and add the jingling...or not, this sentence can expand and bring the reader in.

Pull out the thesaurus. Really.

One of my favorite books is the Rodale's The Synonym Finder. This blog post on CoolTools gives a comparison of how many synonyms can be found using each thesaurus resource. Needless to say, Rodale's is the winner.

When we write, often we are trying to just get the flow and the words. But when you revise, take the time to find the perfect word that conveys the image you are looking for.

So, let's get back to John and his walking. Aren't there specific words that can tell us so much more about John? We all walk. John is your specific character and he has specific actions.

Rodale's has suggestions that are packed with all sorts of meanings that add dimension along with your character. Instead of walking will John
  • tiptoe
  • pace
  • stroll
  • stagger
  • slog
  • ramble
  • hike or 
  • march? 
If he's not jingling his change, we know he's not nervous, so how do you suggest he walked, since we know he did it quietly?

What are your thoughts on revising to removing -ly words and finding synonyms to make your sentences crackle?

Elizabeth King Humphrey, a writer and editor, lives in Wilmington, N.C. She is always looking for good books on writing.


Annette said...

Great advice. Mark Twain has a funny quote about using "Very" in your writing. It usually pops into my head the moment the word hits the page and I instantly delete it. As for those dreaded ly words I think I read once that it's okay to use them like once every ten pages or something. Because once in a while an adverb just works best. That being said, I find that writing is almost always better when they're removed. I've tried using the global search in MS Word to help identify them. It's a time consuming process but well worth it. I'm going to check out that Rodale book too. Thanks!

LuAnn Schindler said...

Excellent advice. If you use a strong verb, an -ly word isn't necessary! I'm like Annette, I instantly delete "very" when it pops onto the page. That's courtesy of my dad, my high school English teacher, who drilled it into my head. I've used the global search once, and agree, again, with Annette - it takes a long time, but the end product is a tighter piece of writing.

I also like to use Flip Dictionary.

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