Publishing 101: Verb Check-up

Publishing 101This is one in a series of posts entitled Publishing 101: Draft to Book in 30 days. To learn more about this challenge, visit the Publishing 101 page, where all links regarding this topic will be listed as they become available.

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This is the first real edit I perform. The goal in this edit is to evaluate the strength of the verbs to see if they are the best I can use in the given situation. All edits should have goals (see below).

Get out your thesaurus. Ignore those people who say you should never use one; how else are you going to learn new, exciting words? I don’t use long, complicated words that the average individual would never use. I choose more appropriate simple verbs. There are a gazillion plain words out there. Add interest to your writing by adding a variety of them.

Instead of using only the ran verb, check your thesaurus for alternatives: he raced; he sprinted; he rushing; he dashed; he jogged; he darted; he rushed; he hurried; he scuttled, he scampered…and the list goes on.

When choosing a verb, imagine your character. If they are young and in shape, they may sprint, but if they are elderly with a bad leg, they might scuttle.

The benefit of selecting the perfect verb is you can almost always eliminate any adverbs associated with the weak verbs. Adverbs are the ‘ly’ words that follow a verb:

  • The chef gave him dessert and he ate it quickly.
  • The chef gave him dessert and he devoured it.
  • The woman wanted his attention, so she spoke loudly.
  • The woman wanted his attention, so she yelled.
  • Dragons from everywhere gathered in the park and walked swiftly to the High Counsel meeting.
  • Dragons from everywhere gathered in the park and hurried to the High Counsel meeting.

In certain genres and writing circles ‘ly’ words are frowned upon. I use ‘ly’ words, but I do it sparingly. I prefer to use strong verbs. If you’re writing for yourself, you decide your own balance, but if you’re writing for a particular market, you may have to learn how to reduce your dependence on ‘ly’ words.Evaluate strength of verbs

Reducing ‘ly’ words also reduces the overall word count, so if you need to chop, target them for easy disposal.

This editing step took me longer than I estimated. I spent ten hours evaluating the strength of the verbs in Fowl Summer Nights. This is probably the most time-consuming edit I perform. However I’m pleased with the strength of my sentences and the over-all improvement because I took time to evaluate each verb.

Before Editing for Verbs

One innocent chirp came from the closed box, one peep that filled the little home that had felt vacant for seven years. The sound ignited an inner desire to take care of its needs regardless of how small or how large. She had not felt necessary since James had left for the afterlife. She would answer the call.

After Editing for Verbs

One innocent cheep escaped the closed box. The one peep filled the little home that had felt vacant for seven years. The sound ignited an inner desire to tend to its needs regardless of how small or how large. She had not felt essential since James had departed for the afterlife. She would answer the call.

Before Editing for Verbs

Mildred spread out the towel on the bottom of the tub, then she removed the chicks from the box. They pecked the strands in the towel, pulling on them with their beaks. They chirped happily as they scratched the towel with their feet. It was such a serene scene it made Mildred rest her chin on her arms and watch. The afternoon passed and before she knew it, time was deep into the evening.

After Editing for Verbs

Mildred spread the towel on the bottom of the tub, then she removed the chicks from the box. They pecked the strands in the towel, tugging on them with their beaks. They cheeped  merrily as they scratched the towel with their feet. The tranquil scene compelled Mildred to rest her chin on her arms and watch. The afternoon elapsed and before she realised it, time was deep into the evening.

Editing step must have goal

Edit Goals

Each editing step should have a specific goal. In my first edit, I looked to replace weak verbs with stronger verbs. In my next edit, I’ll look for something else. By focussing my attention on one specific aspect of editing instead of trying to do everything during the same read through I am better able to target the problem areas. Yes, this does mean I have to edit my manuscript several times, but it doesn’t mean I have to read it as many times. In the end, I’ll produce a much better edited story than if I tried to do everything at once. This is one area where multi-tasking doesn’t pay off as much as single tasking.

During the Evaluation and Verb Check-up edits, I looked for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. In fact, during every step I’m on the lookout for these bad boys, but they don’t become my goal focus until that particular step.

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6 thoughts on “Publishing 101: Verb Check-up

    • Thanks, Ernesto. I’ve been self-editing for about 14 years now, so I’ve created a system that works for me. I don’t go insane if I find a mistake in a book I’ve published, but I do a lot of work in the hope of preventing that from happening.

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