Friday, December 2, 2011

What is Your Novel Missing? Strong Verbs, Unique Words

For my last several posts, we've been discussing what your novel could be missing based on, well, what I notice my novel is missing. If you didn't catch the previous posts, check out Senses, Deep POV, and Hooks. Today it's all about those strong verbs and unique words - or more simply, getting rid of repetitive words.

I'm learning and growing, which is always going to be happening as a writer and that's a good thing. But I still notice these aspects of my writing need help.

Strong Verbs

He walked into the store, footsteps sounding on the tile as he made his way to the counter.


He ambled into the store, shoes slapping against tile on his way to the counter.

"See if you can do any better," Maggie said with a smile. She gave the pencil to her brother.


"See if you can do any better." Maggie arched a brow and nudged the pencil to her brother.

The second example on both uses stronger verbs that give the reader a better visual and a better idea of the character. It's a good goal to aim for upon edits. Strengthen sentences with strong verbs to give a better or clearer picture, AND use words sparingly to make the sentence more powerful and concise.

Not every single verb has to be one of a kind, but adding them in here and there to capture the reader is good.

Patty threw the ball to James just as he turned, and it hit him on the shoulder.

Patty hurtled the ball at James as he turned, pelting him on the shoulder.

See? Better visual and I took out an unnecessary word.

Again, you don't have to go overboard with synonyms and inundate your novel with as many creative verbs as possible, but find those places where you can give your sentence a punch with a stronger verb.

Some verbs we commonly use that could be made stronger are was, walked, talked, saw, heard. Also, watch for those adverbs - words ending in ly.

Unique Words/Repetitive Words

I am a big offender with repetitive words. My characters smile every few paragraphs and lift their eyebrows nearly as much. The simple fix for this is a search and find. But it's also knowing what to look for. Sometimes I'm not aware how many times I've put a certain word until a critique partner points it out. So I've compiled a list of words that show up a lot or should be used sparingly or not at all.

Use sparingly

Like, was, just, heard, saw, felt

Watch for overuse

Glimpse, gaze, eyes (or rolling eyes), lips, shrug, grin (smile, dimples appeared, lips lifted, lips quirked, curved, or curled), smile, chuckle, tip, tilt, lift, turn, eyebrows or brows, rose/rise, walk, breath, nod, gave, look, see, hear

It's a good idea to find your overused words and compile them in a file so you know what to check for when you do your edits.

Two other common offenders?

That and Then

Shelly saw that Frank had lost most of his hair.

Sometimes using "that" is fine, but most of the time it's unnecessary. Read the sentence aloud to see if it sounds the same without using "that". It can also help keep word count down if you use it a lot.

Shelly stepped over a branch that had fallen from the tree. (in this case, it's okay!)

Here's an example using "then"

Monica brushed her hair and then left the room.

Again, using "then" on occasion is fine, just watch for overuse.

These are the ones I notice the most, especially in my writing. If you can find these and try to use more unique ways of saying what you want to say, there won't be as much repetition.

How about you? Do you have words you overuse and how do you go about getting rid of repetitive words?

Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,


Keli Gwyn said...

I love editing! Removing repetition, weasel words, and overused mannerisms is fun. Replacing ho-hum verbs with strong ones thrills me. Watching my story improve before my eyes fills me with delight.

Joanne Sher said...

GREAT post, Cindy! I enjoy using Wordle to find those repetitive words. LOADS of fun :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

I'm with the three of you. I'm hoping to finish my wip soon and go back through and make it better.

Cindy, I see we share some of the same offending words. :) I have discovered that "Well" and "just" seem to escape from my fingertips often. Working on that. :) Thanks for making me think today!

Casey said...

Great post, Cindy! I really love this one, because I connect with so much of what you are saying. I did learn a while back that most "thats" are not neccessary. ;-) But like you, I use a lot of smiles and eye brows rising. Body Language can be a struggle for me to write fresh. But a good challege at the same time to be a student of human nature.

Have a good day, Cindy! :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

How true, Cindy! I am guilty of all of the above! LOL.

Especially over use on the eyes - gazing, watching, regarding, etc.

I guess because the eyes are so expressive of feeling, but I'm trying to curb the tendencies!

Thanks for the reminder!


Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Keli! I love editing, too. At least that kind of editing. It's amazing how a few little words and twists of phrases can really transform a book.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hey Joanne, I'm glad you brought that up! Wordle is fun to use and a great tool to help find those overused words you might not have realized were so...well, overused :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Jeanne, glad to hear I'm not the only one :) Good luck on finishing your WIP!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Casey, you're so right. Body language is HARD to write fresh. We all get stuck with our most common phrases and styles of description and, especially in the first draft, it's easier to do what we know than try to break out of that box and stall the flow of our work.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Susan, yep! Those eyes always get me, too. And I think, as a reader, we always look for those descriptions because they're so romantic so as writers we want to have them in our work. We just have to get more creative is all :) Have a great weekend!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Great reminders & I love your smiling characters.
~ Wendy

Mary Vee Writer said...

Yes, great post.
But now I need replacement words that aren't currently considered overused. Help!!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Aw, thanks, Wendy! Have a good weekend with your family.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Mary, what are your common offenders? Maybe we can put our heads together here and come up with something.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Such an excellent post, Cindy. It can make all the difference in whether your novel sings strongly or is off-key.
Words I overuse: but and just and I also love the em-dash. (Not a word, but something I sprinkle liberally through my WIP.) I have to read and re-read and re-read my ms to obliterate them.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Oh Beth, that's right! The em-dash. I LOVE the em-dash. I think I just used it about ten times in one page while working on my WIP :) Thanks for bringing that one up, it can definitely be overused and we should keep an eye on it.

Camille Eide said...

Wordle? I've never heard of this. What is it? How do I get it? Will it also give me smileys?

I'm polishing my second novel and forgot about checking my weasel words. Part of that comes from being old & forgetful, and part comes from having raised 3 teens and feeling the need to constantly repeat myself... :-)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Camille, you should try Wordle out for sure. It's fun! You go to and click on create. Then you paste your manuscript in the box (the instructions are super easy) and submit. It will make a word jumble of all the words in your story, the ones you use the most will be the largest so you know you use them a lot. (Not sure about the smileys, though :D)

I love that a few of you are using "weasel words" for your repetitive words - way more appropriate :)