5 Manuscript Polishing Tips – Verbs


Unpolished writing is probably the #1 reason manuscripts are rejected. This could be easily avoided if we take a close look at our verbs. Here is a themed list of five things to pay attention to as you take one more look through your manuscripts with those pesky verbs in mind.

  1. “To be” verbs.Was, is, were, are…these words tell of passive sentence construction and if you can, you need to omit them. Example: (Bad) The coffee cup was on the table, full of steaming coffee. (Better) The steaming coffee taunted me, inches from my face. (Best) I slugged back the coffee and grinned.
  2. “Ing” verbs. Present participles are also a clue of passive sentences and need to be avoided. Example: (Bad) I was drinking coffee. (Better) I drank coffee. (Best) I slugged back the coffee and grinned.
  3. “Helping” verbs. These are often unnecessary and can usually be cut outright. Example A: (Bad) I began to drink coffee. (Better) I drank coffee. (Best) I slugged back the coffee and grinned. Example B: (Bad) I could smell the coffee. (Better) I smelled the coffee. (Even Better) The fresh aroma of coffee wafted through the air. (Best) I slugged back the coffee and grinned.
  4. Adverbs. These “ly” words are a red flag that you simply haven’t chosen the right verb. Example A: (Bad) I quickly drank the coffee. (Better) I gulped the coffee. (Best) I slugged back the coffee and grinned. Example B: (Bad) I walked slowly to the coffee pot and flipped the switch to ‘on.’ (Better) I trudged to the coffee pot and flipped the switch to ‘on.’ (Best) I slugged back the coffee and grinned.
  5. Overused verbs. Smiling, laughing, sighing, nodding. These are so common with our everyday expressions that we sometimes overuse them in our writing. Instead of giving you examples here, I will give you the link to an amazing book, called The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression. This book will give you many options for expression. I bought the Kindle (for PC) version and I keep it open on my desktop. You can thank me later. Or just send coffee. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Do any of you have any verb-related proofing tips to share?

Advertisements

15 comments on “5 Manuscript Polishing Tips – Verbs

  1. Dean Sault says:

    Excellent summary and sound advice.

  2. I own that book, “The Emotional Thesaurus,” and I love it. I don’t use examples directly out of the book, but instead, use it to give me inspiration for emotional expressions.

    I find myself falling into the trap of using “that.” I believe this is a first draft habit. I usually am able to omit them out on the second pass. Also, I find myself using “glanced,” “looked,” and “stared,” too often. It’s a terrible habit of mine. Sure, it may happen quite often in real life, but a it will get very old reading everyone staring at each other all the time in your book.

    I enjoyed this article! Thanks for sharing, Michelle!

    • And thanks for commenting, Theresa. I think ‘that’ is a problem for everyone in a first draft. And it’s definitely easy to fall into repeated patterns. I personally find I make my characters ‘breathe’ just a bit too often. Breathing or taking a deep breath – these are things I have to keep on the look out for. It really is an awesome book. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. D Sault says:

    While offering reviews in my writer-group, I find a tendency for writers (me included) to slip on verb-tense agreement. It’s a common enough error that you might add it to your list. Here is an example paraphrased from an actual manuscript written in first person, past tense. Character names and subject matter have been changed to protect the author’s work:

    Incorrect:

    Mary ran across the street calling to her lost dog, but he failed to respond. Does he still love her? It did not appear so, but she does not stop calling as she hopes he will remember her voice.

    Note: “Does” is present tense and out of synch with the other past tense verbs. Same problem with “hopes.”

    Corrected:

    Mary ran across the street calling to her lost dog, but he failed to respond. Did he still love her? It did not appear so, but she did not stop calling as she hoped he would remember her voice.

    The second and third sentences should match the verb tense of the opening sentence in the paragraph. It’s an easy mistake to make and often goes unnoticed during edits.

    Michelle – I love these kinds of writer-help posts from you and the other CLA members. You CLA team members continue a tradition started by Marisa of providing helpful suggestions for aspiring authors. Thank you.

  4. Wayne Meyers says:

    Very helpful! I also picked up the book as suggested, Now I will slug back some coffee and grin. Well, maybe rum instead of coffee, but the grinning will be certain!

  5. Rachael Dahl says:

    I’d never heard of this book until reading this post, but I’ve been looking for something similar for a long time…thank you.

  6. […] you find these tips helpful? Please share with a friend. Also, check out my previous post with 5 helpful manuscript polishing tips to help you get your manuscript as perfect as possible before sending it out. Share […]

  7. “I slugged back to coffee and grinned.” Never mind your excellent advice, that sentence alone warrants an enthusiastic like!

  8. Fabulous! I LURVE the “I slugged back the coffee and grinned.” This really gives us a feel for who you are. *winks*

    I have and use the Emotion Thesaurus almost daily. It is a wonderful tool for any writer.

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s