Writer · writing, grammar, and punctuation · YA Author

Utilizing Stronger Verbs (aka: Show Don’t Tell)

Stronger verbs. Do they really matter? I’ll take a commonly used one, LOOK, and provide some examples of how a strong verb lifts up the story, while weak verbs add nothing—holding down a potentially great scene.

So, what’s the big deal with look? I mean, we all look at stuff. We look down. We look up. We look over our shoulder. We look at people. We look at everything. That’s how we take in a good portion of information to our brain—through looking. So why should we use other words to fluff up something that’s so common? Because how we look at something and why we look at something helps paint a picture, therefore creating conflict and mood for an unforgettable scene. But this can’t be accomplished with the word “looked.”

Let’s start with how we look at something. mirror

“She looked through the crack in the door” provides nothing to the scene and doesn’t create a clear picture. But replace “looked” with a stronger verb, and the sentence comes alive. “She peered through the crack in the door.” The latter gives a clearer picture of the character leaning in, her eye close to the crack, and creates tension. What’s outside the door? What’s going on that has her too scared to just poke out her head? Peered is much stronger, and shows how she looked through the crack in the door instead of just telling the reader she looked through the crack in the door.

“June looked at her mother.” This sentence tells us nothing about the scene, nothing about June’s mood or the relationship between June and her mom. But if I replace “looked” with a stronger verb, the scene comes alive. “June glared at her mother.” The reader can automatically assume June is upset with her mom, something we couldn’t have determined from the weaker verb of “looked.”

“Nicky looked through the curtains.” Again, a plain scene with nothing to hint at what’s going on. “Nicky peeked through the curtains.” This gives a clear picture of the character standing close to the curtains, but not wanting to be seen, she remains hidden behind the curtains.

The next step is to determine why we look at something. This one provides a reason to “look.”  monster

“Footfalls pounded from behind. Mike looked over his shoulder and ran.” While the footsteps set up the scene for something sinister, the word “looked” adds nothing to the tension. “Footfalls pounded from behind. Mike glanced over his shoulder and ran.” To glance at something means to make sudden, quick movements. From the definition we can conclude that whatever is behind Mike is horrible enough to make him run with only a quick sighting.

“Blood gushed from Coltin’s hand. The doctor looked at the wound and determined he needed surgery.” Again, we have a nice setup, but fall short of a vivid scene. “Blood gushed from Coltin’s hand. The doctor examined the wound and determined he needed surgery.” “Examined” offers a clearer picture of how in depth the doctor went to make the determination.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s perfectly fine to use “looked” on occasion, but when a stronger verb can show instead of tell, that’s when I recommend changing it out.

But how do we know which words to use? To help you with this, I compiled a list of synonyms to use instead of “looked.” I also included synonyms for “looks like” and “walked” which are also commonly overused in manuscripts.

So search through those manuscripts and switch out those generic verbs that don’t add to the story. Words matter. Make each one count.

Rebecca Carpenter is a copy editor for Kate Foster Professional Editing and for Lakewater Press. Her first novel, Butterfly Bones, a young adult contemporary science fiction, came out in Nov. of 2016. The sequel, Butterfly Blood, is scheduled to be released in 2018.     043017_0006_1.jpg

 

Synonyms for Looked                                          

Observed

Watched

Saw

Seen

Beheld

Viewed

Considered

Regarded

Eyed

Gazed

Contemplated

Examined

Inspected

Scrutinized

Eyeballed

Studied

Scanned

Surveyed

Pore over

Stared

Glared

Glanced

Gawked

Peeped

Peeked

Peered

Gawped

Focus

Leered

 

 

Synonyms for Looked Like

Resembles         Mocks

Mirrors              Betrays

Reflects             Parallels

Implies              Reverberates

Reveals             Notifies

Echoes              Proclaims

Parodies            Exposes

Pretends            Reiterates

Refers               Proposes

Feigns               Emulates

Suggests           Offers

Assumes           Commends

Poses                Signifies

Hints                 Represents

Simulates          Tells

Mentions           Broadcasts

Mimics              Communicates

Mimes

Mocks

Declares

Announces

Notifies

Tells

Divulges

Resonates

Steers

Touts

Affects

Imitates

 

Synonyms for Walked  

Strode

Ambled                                                          Parades

Foot it                                                            Scurries

Darts                                                              Loiters

Hoofs it                                                          Lumbers

Bounced                                                         Lurches

Clumps                                                          Sashays

Mince                                                            Plods

Leg it                                                            Parade

Roam                                                            Pads

Peregrinate                                                     Limps

Power Walk                                                   Gimps

Pussyfoot                                                       Flounces

Shamble                                                         Dances

Stalked                                                           Boots

Step                                                               Barges

Tiptoes                                                          Strutted

Sneaks                                                           Skipped

Marched                                                        Wandered

Strolled                                                          Rambled

Stride

Paced

Pound

Hiked

Trudged

Toddled

Tottered

Staggered

Promenaded

Perambulated

Ambulated

Sauntered

Moseyed

Meandered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Utilizing Stronger Verbs (aka: Show Don’t Tell)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s