There are no quick fixes when it comes to improving your creative writing, but if you focus on this one aspect, you’ll help inject your writing with vigour and originality.
So what is this one little thing that can have such a powerful and profound effect on your writing? Verbs.
(Don’t groan. I heard that.)
Nouns are flat and impassive – they’re the things that stuff happens to in a sentence. (The girl, the table, a zombie.) Adjectives just lay on top of nouns – sprucing them up a bit, making them prettier. (The brave girl, the wooden table, a hilarious zombie.) Verbs electrify them, and kick them into action. (The brave girl shouted; the wooden table broke; a hilarious zombie moonwalked.)
It’s often easier to reach for an adverb to modify a verb, but that’s not always the best way to go about things.
She walked quickly across the room.
Pretty flat, don’t you think? How can we make this sentence better? Here, ‘walked’ is the verb. But it’s obviously not a very strong verb because it’s paired with ‘quickly’ to modify it (the adverb). The best verbs don’t need adjectives and adverbs to modify them. They’re strong enough on their own.
So how about:
She dashed across the room.
This is better. This gets rid of that pesky adverb and adds a bit more energy to the sentence. But it’s still not that original. How can we add personality to this sentence? Can we choose a verb that both portrays the action accurately and gives us insight into the character?
She danced across the room.
She bustled across the room.
She scampered across the room.
Do you see how each of those examples gives a slightly different meaning? Each one creates a slightly different image, which is both more specific and more original. There is more life in those simple sentences because of one thing: the verb is stronger.
The more playful you allow yourself to be with language, the better your verb usage will become.
(Psst, the thesaurus is your friend – there’s no shame in that!)
Don’t worry too much about verbs as you’re writing. Just write what feels natural at the time. You can always tweak when you edit. Be aware of long descriptions or flat verbs, and ask yourself if another verb would work better.
A word of warning: don’t get carried away. Never sacrifice clarity for creativity – otherwise the reader will become tangled in your writing instead of being swept up in the flow.
A good writer will use adjectives and adverbs to colour their language. A great writer will find the perfect verb.