Friday, July 25, 2014

On Editing - Death to Weak Verbs

I'm in the final stages of A Sawmill's Hope edits and I haven't come up for air in ... I don't honestly know how long. My video games are getting super jealous.

I want to take a second and mention some of the line-level edits that have recently transpired. This took place after most of the story-level issues were dealt with.

One of the stages in edits - one that could be considered another draft - was to eliminate weak verbs. Especially ones I use on rapid fire. Some of you writers are thinking, "I've seen this advice before. Nothing new." Perhaps, but I'd like to share with those of you who haven't.

The words I'm guilty of abusing are as follows (And it was my editor who initiated this elimination process by pointing out the words' frequency)

Glance - He glanced back, She threw a glance, he glanced sidelong, etc.
 * edits took ASH from 55 to 16 instances of this word.

Turn - He turned back, turned to face him, turned from red to purple, eyes turned down, etc
 * went from 246 to 120 instances of this word... 246 is a lot. eh? Just wait.

Grew (grown) - River grew wider, it grew dark, he'd grown silent, etc.
 * 74 down to 23.

Look - He looked down, she looked over, he looked hurt, it looked tall, they looked ominous, etc
 * 420 instances down to 173. Seriously. This is my guilty go-to word.

Began to - He began to question, it began to shake, before he began, etc.
 * 73 to 27

I stopped keeping count after that. The next words weren't so guilty. I'd already done elimination process on them.

Become (became)
Feel (felt)

In and of themselves, there is no inherent danger in these words. Like adverbs, there is a place for them all. But, like sniffing military-grade monkey tranquilizer, there's danger in excess.

Regarding Glance and Look (and Turn when it is referring to body movement during a non-action scene) - I first need to determine if the word is necessary at all. If the scenery or dialogue is so weak I need to keep the focus on who is looking at whom, then there's a bigger problem. If the ruins on the Lake of Four Falls look ominous then perhaps they are ominous and removal strengthens the image.
If removal is not an option, here are alternates I found (yes, I right-click and look at synonyms. If it fails to satisfy, I google "synonym glare" and find Glower. Perfect.)
Peer, peep, stare, glare, eye, examine, scan

Regarding Turn, Become\Became, Grew\Grow\Grown - When these words are used a certain way, like to describe a transition or change or such, they can be improved upon.
Some changes are simple - if a river grows wider, it widens. If Brandal's face turns red, it reddens. Sometimes they offer unique possibilities. If an elk grew still, it froze OR solidified. If the road the party traveled became congested, perhaps it squeezed in on them, leaving your reader with a sense of claustrophobia.

In certain situations the weak verb is surrounded by so much action that enhancing it would detract from the scene as a whole.
If the aggravated alchemist grows wilder with each arrow that thumps into his breastplate, don't focus on the word, aim for his face!

For you writers, what are your go-to weak verbs that must be weeded out and ground beneath your heel?