Preying on the Weak (Verbs)

Originally published September, 2007

Felt, looked, seemed…

They’re the most basic of verbs–the ones used to identify a state of being. We sometimes need them in our writing, and a story without them might well be florid and over-the-top. But an excess of weak verbs sucks the energy from a story. A good writer learns to stalk those weak verbs like prey and cull them from the literary herd.

How can you identify weak verbs without memorizing a list? It’s pretty simple. Weak verbs are those that don’t stand up well in a sentence without support. Take the modifier away from “The boy seemed hostile ” and you have “The boy seemed.” “The boy seemed” is still a sentence, but it describes a kid who simply… gives the impression of something. “He felt sad” becomes “He felt.” Again, still a sentence, but what does it tell us? Continue reading