Weak Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs
To write we need words, and luckily there are so many to choose from! That means you don't have to settle for any word that's ordinary or inexact or lifeless; you can hunt down the very one that will convey your image exactly. Take the time to choose strong, expressive, specific words that will make your writing soar.
How can I increase my vocabulary to have more words to choose from?
Read a lot of books. Make good friends with your thesaurus. Also be on the lookout for exciting language in newspapers and magazines and on TV or the radio. Jot down every word that catches your fancy in your always-handy notebook. Do crossword puzzles that supply you with the answers so you can learn new words, phrases and names.
Sometimes there won't be any question about the right noun to use: it will be the name of a character or a city or an event, a proper noun. But if you're writing about general things, using common nouns — for example, children — you'll want to avoid using the word over and over again and come up with colorful synonyms that keep your writing from being dull. Instead of children, you could use young ones, or preteens (if that's the age group you're writing about), or diaper denizens (if you're writing about very young children), or the knee-high crowd, or the stroller set, or toddlers, or those in the “no.”
Use your imagination to develop nouns or noun phrases that keep your writing fresh and engaging. Think in terms of sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. While you may think that vivid description comes about through the use of adjectives, it is actually nouns that do most of the showing.
To see this for yourself, write a few sentences that don't contain any adjectives. If you choose hard-working nouns, you may be pleasantly surprised with the images you create.
The word verb comes from the Latin word verbum, which means “word.” This fact should give you an idea of how important verbs are in the construction of strong, image-making sentences.
Verbs describe action, so make them action packed. If you want a character to run across a field, think about the precise verb that would show the way you see him running: The character could race, flee, stagger, stumble, reel, speed, jog, dart, scurry, or rush. Any of these verbs would give readers a much better idea than run would of just how your character is making his way across the field.
You can set your sentences in motion by showing people, objects, and events in motion. Even normally motionless objects can have life: doors can groan, TV sets can blare, statues can be hulking, and festivals can invite.
Specific, well-chosen verbs can help readers visualize your words without the need for an armful of adverbs. They're also a great way to energize your writing and make your readers say “Ah!” For example, instead of writing, “Judy drew back when the horse tried to bite her,” you could say, more vividly and more forcefully, “Judy flinched when the horse snapped at her fingers.”
The right adjective can tell readers in a word what might otherwise take a paragraph to describe. They modify nouns, providing more information about them. An adjective tells readers if they should be picturing a russet-colored dog or a wolf-like dog or a purse-sized dog or a raincoat-wearing dog.
Exercise your adjectives. Think of five ordinary adjectives — for example: pretty, fat, happy, small, and red — and include each in a sentence. Then come up with five image-making synonyms for each, and see how much more vivid your sentences become.
When you edit your work, it's always a good idea to check for — and remove — unnecessary adjectives that overload your sentences or add only fluff, not meaning.
While adjectives add color and meaning, it's easy to get carried away and use too many of them. When you're composing your sentences, be sure to use only those adjectives that provide needed detail or nuance and pep up your language; if you use good, strong nouns, you will not need to modify each of them with an adjective.
What adjectives do for nouns, adverbs do for verbs, as well as for adjectives and other adverbs. Adverbs clarify, telling how, when, where, and to what extent, giving readers valuable information for picture making.
Like adjectives, adverbs can be overused when writers rely on them for detail instead of using a strong verb. But when used sparingly, they can liven up sleepy sentences and layer meaning. For example, if you wrote, “It was precisely 8:30 when Aiko opened the door to the small man carrying a rain-soaked briefcase,” the adverb precisely makes was more interesting and more specific, and also adds a particular tone to the sentence: We think of the scene as being carefully arranged, and Aiko as a precise and measured person. If you wrote, “It was early morning when Aiko opened the door to the small man carrying a rain-soaked briefcase,” you would establish a different tone and set a slightly different scene. Precise, vivid wording makes all the difference in your writing.