Using Vivid Verbs

Americans are adverb addicted. We need a twelve-step group for it. “Hello, my name is Ashley and I’m addicted to adverbs.” In my years teaching middle school English, one of the hardest things to get across was the use of vivid verbs. Adverbs flitted about like love bugs on the freeway, but juicy verbs were scarcer than well-mannered students. What a shame for future generations of writers. Why are vivid verbs important to you as a writer? There’s  a plethora of good reasons, but let’s start with two. First,  vivid  verbs help to paint strong images on the canvasses of your readers’ minds. Second (but probably worthy of the number one slot), if you use adverbs to hide your inability to dredge up vivid verbs, agents and editors will find a quick reason to reject your manuscripts. Yes, you heard it clearly. The overuse of adverbs can get your work rejected by overworked  agents and editors. They’re just trolling for a reason to chuck your masterpiece into the rejection heap. Then they can move on to the remaining thousands of manuscripts clamoring for their attention. Sloppy or gratuitous use of adverbs is one of many reasons manuscripts are rejected. So, you may be  asking, what are some examples of using dull or clichéd adverbs instead of sparkling verbs? Here are some examples from my students. •  The deer ran swiftly across the field. Yawn… We all know deer are legendary for their swiftness. Try catching one on foot some day. He’ll run you ragged. What would be a better way to say this, using a vivid verb? Try, “The deer flew across the field.” Or perhaps, “The deer shot across the field.” Both of these conjure a stronger image than the bland adverb “swiftly.” •  The girl’s eyes shone brightly. Boring. Instead, try, “The girl’s eyes sparkled.” Or maybe, “The girl’s eyes glowed.”  Throw in a simile if you wish, and take it a step further. “The girl’s eyes glowed like a brush fire.”  We’ll explore the use of similes and figurative language in another blog entry. What if you’re not a walking storehouse of vivid verbs? Don’t despair. There are endless online help sources. One useful place to start is this  Here’s a link to their verb lists: Here’s a simple exercise to try: Take a page of your writing and see how many adverbs are there. Then replace most of the adverbs with a vivid verb. Your writing will thank you for it. Until next time, may your fingers fly across your keyboard and your imagination soar into the stratosphere. Keep writing! –Hank

4 responses to “Using Vivid Verbs

  1. At last! The art of English revered, adorned with delicate orchid petals and held aloft for all to learn. I look forward to more.

  2. As I look forward to your Pearls of Wisdom.

  3. Thank you for the brilliant nugget.

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